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Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
 
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
 
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
 
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
 
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

READ ALSO: 

Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.

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POLITICS

EXPLAINED: How right-wing is Norway?

Politics in Europe appears to be trending towards the right, with right-wing and far-right parties performing well in recent elections in Sweden and Italy. So, how much of a right-wing presence is there in Norway? 

EXPLAINED: How right-wing is Norway?

Across Europe, recent election results have shown a trend towards the right. In Italy, election winner Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy party is set to become the new PM, while in Sweden, the anti-immigration Swedish Democrats will form part of a right-wing government there. 

Norway appears to be one of the exceptions to this recent trend. In last year’s election, the centre-right government was ousted in favour of a minority coalition of the Labour Party and Centre Party, with the new regime relying on budgetary and parliamentary support from the Socialist Left Party. 

So, where does the country lie politically? Professor Knut Heidar, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo, said that Norway could be placed moderately to the left of the political spectrum when compared to the rest of northern Europe. 

“(There is a) broad agreement among the parties about redistribution (of wealth) and an active welfare state. Also, the far-right Progress Party argues for broader state welfare provisions for ‘ordinary people. At the same time, (there is) a broad consensus on providing good opportunities for private enterprise, although (there are) disagreements (between the parties) on taxes,” he explained to The Local. He added that Norway’s political leaning as a country was typical of Scandinavia as a whole. 

Historically, the Labour Party has been Norway’s biggest and most popular political party, with the Conservatives, the country’s largest right-wing party, winning the 2nd or 3rd most seats in parliamentary elections. 

However, Norway is not too far removed from eight years of centre-right government, which included the Progress Party (FRP) for over six of those years. 

The presence of the far-right party in governemnt has had the effect of normalising the populist party as one which could be seen as being part of government- not just in opposition, according to Heidar. 

When asked what impact the Progress Party had while in government, Heidar said: “(It was) small in the overall picture, but they won some symbolic victories. More importantly, (they) moved public debate onto issues that previously had been ‘no-go’ areas.” 

Eventually, though, governmental fatigue would set in for both the Progress Party and Conservative Party and their popularity dipped by the time the 2021 election rolled around. The Conservatives and Progress Party ended up being the two biggest losers on election night, losing nine and six seats respectively. 

The Progress Party would leave governemnt more than a year before the election though. It walked out of government over Norway’s decision to allow a woman linked with the Islamic State terror group back into the country on humanitarian grounds.

What draws voters in Norway to the right? 

Heidar explained that voters of the Conservative Party are typically drawn to its policies on tax and competition between the public and private sector for public services such as health, social services and education.

The political scientist explained that voters of the Progress Party are most concerned with immigration, slashing government red tape, and cutting taxes. 

In this regard, Heidar explained, the Progress Party is similar to other right-wing parties in Scandinavia but that it was less extreme than populist parties in Denmark and Sweden. He added that there was one aspect in which the Progress Party outperformed other parties on the far-right. 

“(They are) also much better in building party organisation and educating their politicians, some of which were much more liberal (in a European sense) than populist,” he said. 

What about the long-term?

The shift from a centre-right to a centre-left government is unlikely to represent a shift in the paradigm or indicate a longer-term trend towards the left. 

Instead, it may simply represent a continuation of the politics and policies that have come before, according to Heidar. 

“No”, the professor said when asked if there was any evidence that Norway could shift further to the right or the left in the longer term. He added that due to serious challenges internationally, the country would likely favour stability over sweeping changes. 

READ ALSO: Why isn’t Norway an EU member?

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