Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the CDU is to become Germany’s first female defence minister.

Berlin (dpa) – Members of Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Saturday agreed to a coalition government with conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.  The result paves the way for Merkel’s re-election Tuesday to the chancellorship, a post she has held since 2005. During her first term, which lasted through 2009, she also governed in a grand coalition with the SPD.

From left, German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, Chancellor and chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel
From left, German Social Democratic Party (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel, Chancellor and chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel — (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The SPD announced the result after counting votes Saturday from a postal ballot of its members on whether to agree to the coalition deal hammered out by party leaders.

The party said 76 per cent of those who voted approved the deal with 24 per cent against.

The vote in favour was a groundbreaking move, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said.

This day would not just go down in the history of social democracy in Germany but also in the history of Germany itself, Gabriel said.

He called it a “celebration of inner-party democracy” as supporters cheered. The SPD has about 475,000 active members.

Merkel congratulated Gabriel on the high turnout and the “yes” vote and said she looked forward to the SPD’s cooperation in the coalition government.

The SPD leadership had earlier voiced confidence it would win over the rank-and-file majority to ally with Merkel despite fears among party radicals that there had been too many compromises with Merkel’s conservatives.

If the SPD vote had failed, Merkel’s efforts at government formation would have gone back to square one. Her only other practical options

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the CDU is to become Germany's first female defence minister. -- photo: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the CDU is to become Germany’s first female defence minister. — photo: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa

would have been to invite the reluctant Green Party into a coalition or to call a fresh election to break the deadlock.

Merkel has already conceded SPD calls to legislate a minimum hourly wage in Germany, which could raise the pay of millions, especially in eastern Germany; lower the legal retirement age to 63 for some Germans; and divert federal funds to the states and municipalities.

The SPD referendum had no precedent in Germany. Normally, the party’s top brass decides on whether to enter a coalition, and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), chose the traditional method of voting in their earlier approvals of the grand coalition.

Merkel had met Thursday with Gabriel and CSU leader Horst Seehofer for talks, which Seehofer said were aimed at settling cabinet appointments. The announcements of who will fill those posts are to be made Sunday.

Despite the secrecy, Gabriel has been widely tipped to become economics and energy minister while a former foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is expected to reclaim that post if the Social Democrats gain the portfolio.

The CDU’s Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s 70-year-old finance minister, has been widely expected to retain his position.

One surprise was expected, however. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen of the CDU is to become Germany’s first female defence minister, media reports said.

Political scientists said Merkel is likely to distribute five ministries to her own party, three to the CSU and six to the SPD. Counting the chancellor and her chief of staff, that would make a cabinet of 16.

By agreement, the political parties – not the chancellor – are likely to have the final say on who to appoint to their allocated ministries.

The CDU-CSU alliance narrowly failed to win an absolute majority in the September 22 general elections. Merkel’s previous coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), failed to be returned to parliament.

Since then, Merkel has been running Europe’s biggest economy with caretaker powers. She has negotiated a 185-page policy accord with the SPD and CSU, setting out most of the details of what her cabinet will do for the next four years.