Germany. The Social Democratic Government Party SPD
continued its crusade when the state elections were first
held in Schleswig-Holstein in February and then in North
Rhine-Westphalia in May. The latter defeat was particularly
noticeable because the state is traditionally a social
democratic stronghold where the SPD has ruled for 39 years.
The result led to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder surprisingly
requesting new elections. He got what he wanted; the
government lost a vote of confidence and President Horst
Köhler announced new elections. In September, voters had to
say theirs, a year before the general election.
countryaah, the Christian Democrats appointed party leader Angela
Merkel as chancellor candidate. A new alliance on the left,
Die Linke, was also formed when former SPD leader Oskar
Lafontaine resigned from the party in protest of
"anti-socialist politics". He and other defunct Social
Democrats joined forces with the former East German
Communists in the PDS.
The Christian Democrats led big in opinion polls during
the summer; it looked as if CDU and the Bavarian sister
party CSU could get their own majority. But the support then
dropped so sharply that even the CDU/CSU looked like a
loser when the election results were clear, despite being
the biggest. The Christian Democrats took home just over 35%
of the vote, while the SPD, after a hefty promotion at the
end, got just over 34%. The liberal FDP went ahead and
gained almost 10%, but that was not enough to form
government with the Christian Democrats. The Green Party got
8%, which meant that there was no basis for a new red-green
coalition either. Neither of the two major parties was
interested in support from Die Linke, who took home nearly
The currency output thus gave a locked position; both
Schröder and Merkel wanted to form a government. After a
month, however, their parties agreed to rule together in a
so-called large coalition. The lengthy coalition
negotiations that followed seemed to break down when the
SPD's chairman Franz Müntefering suddenly resigned due to an
internal dispute. But the Social Democrats quickly chose
Matthias Platzeck as new leader and Müntefering continued to
participate in the negotiations.
In November, two months after the election, Angela Merkel
took over as Germany's first female Chancellor. She was also
the first head of government from old East Germany, a region
that received extra political weight because the new SPD
leader Platzeck also came from there. Schröder was not a
member of the government, but the SPD held half of the
government posts, including the heavy foreign, finance and
justice ministerial posts.
Merkel explained when taking office that the government's
main task was to decontaminate the state's poor finances and
reduce unemployment. In February, the number of unemployed
had exceeded 5 million, the highest figure since the
beginning of the 1930s, but had fallen to just over 4.5
million in November.
The government program promised a steel bath without
major ideological considerations: The Christian Democrats
had to accept delayed tax cuts and instead tightened taxes
for high-income earners, while the Social Democrats had to
agree to restrictions on labor law. A decision to raise VAT
from 16 to 19% from 2007 has drawn criticism from both
business and trade unions, and few have cheered on the
message that the retirement age is gradually increasing from
65 to 67 years.
In August, Moroccan Mounir Motassadeq was sentenced to
seven years in prison for belonging to a terrorist
organization. However, he was cleared of suspicions of
having participated in planning the terrorist attack in the
United States on September 11, 2001, a crime he was
convicted of in 2003.
In October, the reconstructed Baroque church Frauenkirche
in Dresden was inaugurated. The church had been a ruin after
the 1945 bombing.