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A German grand coalition bodes ill

VICTOR GROSSMAN says the SDP has dropped demands to tax the wealthy in return for seats at Merkel's table

Germany's Social Democrats have now agreed to open coalition talks with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

The CDU, together with Bavarian sister party CSU, had expected to win a majority of Bundestag seats at the last election and rule the country by themselves.

Largely due to Merkel they did indeed do amazingly well, but missed their expected goal by a mere five seats and therefore required a new partner.

Their previous conservative partners the Free Democrats had no seats at all and were thus out of the running, Merkel was forced to choose a new partner, either the Greens or the Social Democrats (SPD).

At one time even the thought of the Greens and CDU-CSU "Christians" ruling together would have been laughed out of the room. They seemed total opposites.

But the Greens now represent less rebellious youth than satisfied professionals, while some of their right wing, like the minister-president of Baden-Wurttemberg, also a wild radical in his youth, now want to look more to "business people."

The polite meetings of the two parties led nowhere, however. The Greens could not abandon their major issue, ecology and safe energy.

At their weekend congress, reflecting their meagre 8.4 per cent election returns, they dropped some older leaders and proclaimed that they would no longer remain inseparable allies of the Social Democrats. How could they decide otherwise, since the SPD is now set to sit in government while they are in opposition?

A few brave Green souls even broached the possibility of someday working with Die Linke - till now a virtually total taboo.

The parties will almost be forced to co-operate in some ways, since together these two opposition parties will have only about 20 per cent of the seats, while a grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats will have about 80 per cent.

Anyone could have predicted that the SPD and the CDU-CSU would again form another grand coalition, a situation last seen between 2005-09, even though that solution proved disastrous for the SPD.

But those warm, soft cabinet chairs are far more tempting than the cold seats on the opposition side, and the SPD, after trying to sound tough, reached the expected agreement.

Indeed, the head of the CSU, which is even further to the right than the CDU, noted after the last meeting with the SPD that "the atmosphere was good, there was even some laughter."

Evidently the SPD won out with its long overdue €8.50 (£7.19) minimum wage demand, always opposed by rightwingers in Merkel's band but otherwise largely accepted.

But it will sacrifice its second main campaign demand, raising taxes on super-wealthy companies and individuals.

"You just can't win them all," the party indicated, though the money is sorely needed for education, infrastructure and anti-poverty efforts. As for the planned mail-in vote of all their members, who may possibly be less willing to join their traditional CDU foes, this seems at the moment to have been quietly forgotten.

This new willingness by SPD leaders was easier since "Mutti" (mama) Merkel still maintains - most of the time - that pleasant look and tone. But, ach! - when you peek just a little behind the scenes you wonder about the smiles, the "good atmosphere" and the laughter.

Last week Germany succeeded in forcing environmental ministers of the other European Union countries to put off enforcement on lower CO2 emissions by heavy European-made cars.

As the magazine Der Spiegel put it: "There were threats, lobbying and even a call from Chancellor Merkel to the Irish prime minister" - the current occupant of the EU's rotating presidency.

"In the end, Germany got its way and managed to delay an EU decision."

At almost the same time the interested German public learned that the Quandt family, major shareholders in the company making BMW cars, had just given the CDU a friendly present of €690,000 (£585,000). This was just pocket money for the family, but was a great help to the CDU which, like the Quandts, quickly denied any connection between the two, although BMW and Mercedes are the worst offenders with their heavy cars. And they don't want to change.

The family is fascinating. Johanna, its head and one of the wealthiest women in the world, was married to one of the two Quandt brothers, who with their father Guenther were among Hitler's major industrialists, producing batteries for submarines and V2 rocket launchers, Mauser guns and other friendly products, using more than 50,000 Polish female forced labourers, POWs and concentration camp slaves to build their fortune. They carried over the profits into their post-1945 business, including BMW.

The other Quandt son, a half-brother, after the divorce and remarriage of his mother became the loving stepson of none other than Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

In the last days of the war Goebbels, before poisoning himself, his wife and his daughters, sent his stepson a farewell note: "It's likely that you'll be the only one to remain who can continue the tradition of the family."

He did his best.

And here is another sector of Merkel's programme, which the SPD will almost certainly be supporting, as it has with similar scenarios in the past.

The event ran parallel to its jolly coalition conferences: "As German military sources report, between September 30 and October 10 there were major manoeuvres in the Lueneburger Heath area near Bergen and Munster," not far from the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

"The so-called informational training operation, involving 3,500 soldiers and 700 land and air vehicles, was viewed by future general staff and admiral staff officers at the Bundeswehr Leadership Academy and other officers in training.

"As one of the participants stated: 'You need to smell the powder and hear the noise.'

The basic scenario for the manoeuvres was based on the landing of German troops in a fictitious country, Obsidia, with the aim of putting down active rebellions there," according to German Foreign Policy.

Perhaps such plans help explain why Die Linke, despite occasional disagreement, has insisted in its programme on "no use of German troops abroad for any purpose."

Even if labelled humanitarian aid, any such use helps to strengthen such elements and train their military units.

This issue has been a major stumbling block for any possible coalitions on a national basis between the SPD and Greens with Die Linke.

We must wait to see who sticks to their guns - or who rejects them.

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