Swiss sceptical of "marriage of convenience"

Angela Merkel, the next German chancellor, makes the Swiss front pages

Images of Germany's beaming new chancellor, Angela Merkel, cover Swiss newspaper front pages but the editorials are less positive.

This content was published on October 11, 2005 minutes

Initial press reactions are unanimous in seeing difficulties in the recently negotiated coalition government as well as political reforms.

Three weeks after voters gave Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) an unexpectedly narrow win over Gerhard Schröder's Social Democratic Party (SPD) in a federal election, an agreement has been struck that sets the stage for a power-sharing cabinet and breaks Germany's political deadlock.

Negotiations to form a "grand coalition" of Germany's two largest parties are set to last until the middle of November.

After the election result, Swiss papers all agreed that it would be the small parties who would play the kingmakers and that Merkel was the main loser.

High price

Dogged and sober via morose – these are some of the more positive descriptions laid by the Swiss press on Germany's first woman chancellor.

The Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger was one of many papers that believed Merkel – "the demure scientist from the East" – had paid a high price.

It said Schröder's SPD had eventually got what it wanted: a substantial number of choice ministries. This meant the CDU could kiss goodbye to a politically central position.

Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement – which Merkel described as "good and fair" – the SPD will get eight ministerial positions, the CDU four and its Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CDU), two.

"Was it really her election goal to become chancellor of a Social Democrat government?" the Tages-Anzeiger asked.

One leader in the mass-circulation Blick said it was "a big step for Merkel, but just a small one for the CDU/CSU".

"What will Merkel now make of Germany?" it wondered.

The Basler Zeitung said Merkel was on the "threshold of the chancellorship" but reckoned that a weak chancellor of reform-needy Germany was hardly what voters had hoped for in September.

Electoral wrangling

The French-language papers gave less priority to the news from Germany.

The Tribune de Genève relegated Merkel's "bitter victory" to page seven, saying her negotiated victory had an "air of defeat" about it.

Like many papers, the Tribune did not envy Merkel's position. It said she had picked up the baton at a time when Germany was often described as the sick man of Europe and was in a deep economic and social crisis.

The Lausanne-based 24 Heures described Merkel as morose and said her becoming chancellor was a "coronation without panache".

Merkel, it said, "had turned from [former chancellor Helmut] Kohl's girl into the lady of parliament amid a ghastly climate of electoral wrangling".

Hidden strengths

The papers, however, acknowledged Merkel's determination.

The Berner Zeitung described her as a "fighter", and when 24 Heures said the only person you thought of when you heard Merkel speak was former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it wasn't alone.

Der Bund, reporting from Bern, said it wouldn't be the first time that "personalities that had been given little credit – especially women – had mobilised strengths that no one had thought they had".

Thatcher and former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir were two names it mentioned.

And Gerhard Schröder? He was hardly to be seen on the front or inside pages and any fleeting mention said his future was unclear.

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Key facts

Angela Merkel's forces have 226 votes in the 614-seat parliament, while the Social Democrats have 222.
A coalition needs 308 seats for a majority.

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In brief

The September 18 election in Germany gave neither the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) nor the Social Democratic Party (SPD) enough votes to rule with their preferred partners.

Tough negotiations thus ensued after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder declared he would remain in charge.

The deadlock was resolved after three weeks of intense discussions.

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