Quo Vadis Germany? 100 Days of the new Federal Government

On Thursday, 21 June, the Federal Government will have been in place for 100 days. Until 14 March 2018, when the coalition government between the Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats was formed, the political situation was – especially in German terms – extraordinary. Since the federal elections in September 2017 it had taken nearly six months to form a new coalition.

One reason for the long delay in forming a new government were the high electoral losses for the CDU/CSU and SPD, which led to internal conflicts. After Chancellor Merkel failed to form a government with the Liberals and the Green Party, the SPD gave in into public pressure to enter another Grand Coalition.

After 100 days, the Grand Coalition now seems to be at an impasse. While it has managed to launch several legislative proposals – and pass some of them – the row about Germany’s asylum policy has overshadowed the government’s work for the past week and threatens to derail the coalition. The row erupted between the two sister parties Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), who have been in an alliance since 1949.

The dispute was sparked by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) announcing a “masterplan” on asylum policy which foresees to turn back certain refugees at Germany’s border. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has so far strongly refused to implement such a policy. If she is unsuccessful in striking bilateral deals with other EU countries, such as Italy, on taking back already registered asylum seekers, this could lead to the collapse of the current government and potentially see Chancellor Merkel’s political career end abruptly.

Despite these significant risks for the coalition government and Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, it is worth looking at some of the legislative steps the coalition has taken since coming into office:

  • Class action lawsuits: The German Bundestag adopted a new law that will enable class action lawsuits, albeit in a significantly lighter version than their U.S. counterparts. The law will enable collective proceedings against companies to be introduced by consumer organizations.
  • Right to return to full-time employment: A significant step for employees will be the right to return to full-time employment after a time in part-time employment. The new law is meant to make it easier for employees to balance their family lives and career.
  • Coal commission: The government has created a “coal commission” which is tasked with developing a gradual exit strategy from Germany’s reliance on coal. Significantly, it is meant to decide on an end date for coal-powered energy production.
  • Data Ethics Commission and Working Group on AI: The government decided to establish a Data Ethics Commission and the Bundestag decided to establish a Working Group on Artificial Intelligence which are meant to develop legal, political and ethical principles for the use of data and AI.

Overall, legislative action has been limited so far. Instead, the government has focused on setting up commissions and working groups to further develop policy measures on some of the key topics for Germany, such as the energy transition or digitization. For a coalition government that has ruled in this constellation for eight of the past 12 years, that seems too little.

The government will have to work very hard to overcome the current dispute on asylum policy and develop future-oriented policies if it wants to be seen as successful after its four years. Domestic and international calls for Germany to up its game in terms of investment and taking a leadership role in foreign policy are only likely to grow.