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Germany’s Other Physicist-Politician Sees CDU-SPD Coalition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled in a so-called grand coalition with the SPD during her first term from 2005 to 2009. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be preparing to ditch her current coalition partner in favor of a rerun of her alliance with the Social Democrats after this year’s election, said Reiner Haseloff, the prime minister of Saxony-Anhalt state.

With her Free Democratic coalition partner polling about a third of the 14.6 percent support it won to enter government in 2009, Merkel will probably be forced to look for an alternative after the Sept. 22 ballot, said Haseloff, a Merkel confidant and executive board member of her Christian Democratic Union party.

“Mathematically only coalitions of the CDU bloc with the Greens or CDU-SPD are conceivable” if current polls are right, Haseloff, a trained scientist like Merkel, said in an interview on March 6 in Magdeburg, the state capital. “I regard CDU-SPD as more realistic because there’s not much in the way of successful experiments with CDU-Greens.”

Six months out from federal elections that will determine whether Merkel wins a third term, the chancellor’s handling of the euro-area crisis has been rewarded with near-record personal ratings while her Christian Democratic bloc leads the main opposition Social Democrats by as many as 15 percentage points. Germany’s electoral system means she’ll still need a coalition partner to gain the majority needed to govern.

Merkel ruled in a so-called grand coalition with the SPD during her first term from 2005 to 2009. There has never been a CDU-Greens federal government and the only such coalition at the state level, in Hamburg, lasted less than two years before breaking up due to differences over energy policy and the environmental impact of deepening the River Elbe for the harbor.

How to Deal

“The chancellor already knows how to deal with the SPD,” Haseloff said. Given the Social Democrats’ domination of the upper house in Berlin, the Bundesrat, the Merkel government is already de facto “operating with a grand coalition,” he said.

Haseloff, 59, who became prime minister in 2011 at the head of a grand coalition that has ruled in Saxony-Anhalt since 2006, said that he often sees the chancellor several times a week. Aside from their shared CDU background, he and Merkel were born within five months of each other and both grew up in communist East Germany; both are from religious families that suffered persecution in the east; both gained doctorates in physics.

“We had the same historical formative things in our lives,” Haseloff said in his state chancellery, a 19th century former Prussian army headquarters perched above the Elbe River. He says he has “a trusting relationship” with Merkel.

Texting Merkel

“If something is acute I can just call her on her mobile phone,” he said. “Even between Christmas and New Year’s I was in her election district on vacation and sent her a short text message. She answered immediately. Within a single day we exchanged four or five text messages.”

For Haseloff, winning eastern Germany is key to clinching the election. In 1998 and again in 2002, the CDU was ahead in the nine states of western Germany yet lost the vote to Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder because its support dropped in the east, according to Haseloff. The CDU is currently in power in five of the east’s six states, with three CDU premiers and acting as coalition partner in two other regions.

“If we don’t win in the east, then it’s hard to win the election,” Haseloff said. “One can’t win a federal election in the east but one can lose an election in the east.”

Saxony-Anhalt, located in the center of northern Germany with a population of 2.3 million, is redolent with German history and culture.

Haseloff’s home town of Wittenberg is where Martin Luther began the protestant reformation in 1517. Johann Sebastian Bach composed many of his most famous works while living in the town of Koethen, including the “Brandenburg Concertos” and the “Well-Tempered Clavier.”

Bauhaus, Bismark

Dessau is a modern architecture landmark with its Bauhaus movement under Walter Gropius. The state is the birthplace of Germany’s 19th century Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and its Altmark region is the cradle of Prussia.

Magdeburg was gutted in an allied bombing raid at the end of World War II, making it the third-most devastated German city after Dresden and Cologne, according to the city’s website. The Jan. 16, 1945, raid destroyed 60 percent of buildings and 90 percent of its historic center.

Today, the state’s three biggest employers are Deutsche Bahn AG, with 8,000 staff; The Dow Chemical Co. with 5,400 workers; and Deutsche Post AG, with 5,100 employees, according to data from the prime minister’s office.

Energy prices as a result of the transition to renewables from nuclear power will be a top theme in Merkel’s re-election campaign, Haseloff said. Germany had the third-most expensive household electricity in the 27-nation European Union in 2012 after Denmark and Cyprus, according to EU data.

He backed government efforts to legislate cutting household electricity costs before the election by shifting more of the burden to industry. Energy policy will be one of the most important areas of a third Merkel term, when she may create a dedicated energy ministry, he said.

Energy is “the most strategic task since German reunification in relation to the economy” he said.

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