looked more relieved than exhilarated when she stepped before the cameras Monday to announce the deal her Christian Democratic party cut with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats to make her the new and first female German chancellor.
â€œI am in a good mood,â€ she said dryly. â€œBut I know there is a lot of work lying ahead of us.â€
This sounds strangely unenthusiastic for someone who has just been appointed the next German chancellor, a goal that she has been fighting to achieve for more than the past three years. At only 51, Merkel has proven great leadership in her own party's crisis in the late 90s, and has managed to fight her way up as a young woman without large support in a male-dominated party.
By winning the power struggle against Schroeder, she has once again proven her strength. Schroeder announced Tuesday he would refrain from joining the new government, leaving Merkel with Franz Muentefering, leader of the Social Democrats, as her future governing partner and vice chancellor.
But, in order to score this decisive hit, Merkel had to make huge concessions to the Social Democrats by giving them more than half of the ministries, among them the influential foreign ministry and the ministry of work and social security. What's more, Schroeder has announced that he would take part in the coalition talks, scheduled to start Monday, which can be expected to be quite a tug-of-war.
Admittedly, the union is not a love match. The two parties are the major opponents in German politics, disagreeing on topics of social security and foreign policy. Even in the three weeks since the elections, the two major parties have been trying to form coalitions of every other possible combination to avoid having to cooperate. But voters, sick of the constant struggle between the two parties, forced them to do so by giving neither party sufficient prospects to form a majority. The mandate will leave the parties with no option but to reach a consensus.
What does the grand coalition imply? When eventually formed, it will have a powerful majority of over 70 percent in the German Bundestag
. With barely any influential opposition, the coalition, if its members manage to agree with each other, will have the opportunity and power to endorse the necessary economic and social reforms. Even a strong opposition from within may not be able to bring down the majority.
While issues related to Germany's
staggering unemployment rate and suffering economy took center stage during the campaign, there are numerous foreign policy issues that require attention as well. Even though it became clear Monday that the Social Democrats would appoint the next foreign minister, who will get the job is yet unclear. After Schroeder's withdrawal, possible candidates for the post remain to be the Interior Minister Otto Schilly and Defense Minister Peter Struck.
Whoever is appointed will probably seek to rebuild good relations with the US, which suffered under the disagreement over the Iraq war. The fight against international terror continues and issues related to it will have to be faced. In addition, the biggest issue of disagreement in foreign policy between the coalition partners, Turkey's
entry into the EU, is yet to be solved.
Angela Merkel is probably right not to be too enthusiastic. Her victory in the power struggle for chancellorship is just the beginning of the struggle over the topics and issues in the coalition talks. Once in power, she will have to restore the German economy with controversial reforms and take decisive foreign policy decisions. This will require all the leadership skills that Merkel has been demonstrated to possess.