The effects of the unpopular social reforms launched at the beginning of the 21st century. from the executive led by the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder made themselves heard in the following years, during the new ‘grand coalition’ government (Große koalition) between the conservatives of the CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, German Christian Democratic Union) and the Social Democrats of the SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, German Social Democratic Party) who, with Angela Merkel as chancellor, took office after the 2005 elections. In this phase, the gradual decline of the unemployed and the improvement of public finances allowed the government to think about new reforms in the fields of health, corporate taxation, the federal system, unemployment benefits and pensions.
Having overcome some internal disagreements in the coalition, the government launched a constitutional reform (March 2006) which sought to solve the problems of governability by limiting the prerogatives of the Bundesrat (Upper House of the German Parliament) and expanding the power of the elected bodies at the state level, and decided the terms of the gradual raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67 and the reform of the health system.
The global economic crisis that plagued Europe in the autumn of 2008 imposed unpopular fiscal measures and massive cuts in public spending, which affected party approval. In the 2009 elections, both the SPD with 23% (−11.2%) and, to a lesser extent, the coalition between the CDU and its Bavarian counterpart CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern) with 33.8% (−1.4%), lost votes compared to the previous elections. The three smaller parties, on the other hand, recorded an important increase in support: the liberal Freie demokratische partei (FDP), which with 14.6% of the votes replaced the Social Democrats as government partner; Die Linke (The Left) which, born in 2005 from the merger of various left-wing parties, obtained 11.9% of the votes, mainly taken from the SPD; the Greens (Bündnis 90 / Die grünen), with 10.7%.
In June 2010, Christian Democratic Federal President Horst Köhler, who resigned after stating that it was right that the German military were in Afghānistān to protect Germany’s commercial interests, was replaced by conservative Christian Wulff. Also resigned for involvement in a scandal for a loan in March 2012, former Lutheran pastor Joachim Gauck, supported by the Social Democrats, was elected as the new president.
In 2011, the government decided to participate in a financial aid plan aimed at Eurozone countries overwhelmed by the economic crisis: on the impulse of the Euro-skeptical opposition, the Constitutional Court ruled on the legitimacy of these measures and the following year reiterated this orientation, sanctioning the regularity of participation in the European Stability Mechanism (‘bailout’ fund) and of the adhesion to the Treaty on stability, coordination and governance in the economic and monetary union (so-called Fiscal compact).
Merkel’s policy, based both on austerity in public finances and on the guarantee of stability, as well as, on the Community level, on the proposal of a common investment plan and on the adoption of the German model as the basis for the entire political-economic line of the EU, allowed the country not to suffer too much from the global economic crisis and the CDU to maintain high consensus, despite the percentage growth in poverty and social inequality. In the federal elections of September 2013 for the renewal of the Bundestag, the CDU-CSU coalition prevailed with 41.5% of the votes, despite missing the goal of an absolute majority of seats.
Left out of Parliament, for the first time since the war, the liberals, for the CDU-CSU a period of negotiations began to create a new coalition government. Only in the following December, after a consultation among its members, the SPD, which had taken 26% of the votes, decided to participate in a new grand coalition with CDUCSU, with Merkel as chancellor for the third consecutive time.
The coalition agreement (Koalitionsvertrag), in which the influence of the SPD was evident, provided for the establishment of a guaranteed minimum wage of 8.50 euros per hour (approved by Parliament in July 2014) and greater guarantees for temporary and part-time work, with a general reduction of flexibility in the world of work, the increase of minimum pensions to 850 euros per month, the possibility of retiring from the age of 63 with 45 years of contributions, the granting of dual nationality to the children of non-EU immigrants who had lived in Germany for at least eight years and had attended schools there for at least six years (became law in July 2014). These measures required massive state investments:
Furthermore, in the 2013 elections, the right-wing and Eurosceptic AFD (Alternative Für Deutschland, Alternative for Germany) party, founded in early 2013 by a group of university professors and entrepreneurs with a neoliberal background, was a candidate for the first time. Although, with 4.7%, in 2013 he failed to overcome the barrier, the consensus he obtained was among the causes of the collapse of the Liberal party and the decline in consensus for the far-right party NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, National Democratic Party of Germany), with whom she shared part of the electorate, and, later, for the CDU itself, which Merkel’s modernization efforts made less and less conservative. These trends were confirmed both in the elections for the European Parliament of May 2014 (CDU 30%; SPD 27.3%; Verdi 10.7%; Die Linke 7.4%; AFD 7.1%), as well as in the regional ones of Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg in August-September 2014, in which the AFD reached and exceeded 10%.
Steinmeier and Karzai
On the level of international politics, the German sense of guilt for the Nazi regime continued to re-emerge, making the population of Germany overwhelmingly hostile to participation in international military operations. In 2006, however, the German Parliament approved the sending of soldiers to Lebanon as part of the UN mission, opening a debate on the advisability of the presence of German soldiers in an area so close to Israel. In 2011 Germany abstained (with Russia, China, Brazil and India) on the UN security resolution in favor of the protection of the Libyan civilian population by all necessary means and, subsequently, expressed opposition to an intervention in Syria and a gradual withdrawal of soldiers from the mission in Afghānistān began. During the Merkel governments, relations with the United States were strengthened and, above all, those with Russia, a fundamental trading partner of the Germans, especially after the choice of a progressive nuclear disposal (March-May 2011), which increased dependence on Russian gas.. Germany also continued to work to ensure that its role on the international stage was recognized, proposing with Brazil, Japan and India (Group of 4, G4) an enlargement of the UN Security Council with the addition of ten members, six permanent (the G4 countries and two African states) and four not. Although these efforts were unsuccessful, Germany decisively influenced the most important issues of international politics, particularly in the negotiations that led to a nuclear deal (Nov. 2013) with Irān,