Merkel becomes Germany's first woman chancellor

Conservative Angela Merkel struck a power-sharing deal Monday that will make her the first woman and politician from the ex-communist east to serve as Germany's chancellor, forging a coalition with ousted leader Gerhard Schroeder's party to reform the faltering economy.

The country's two biggest political forces were forced into talks on forming a joint government after a Sept. 18 election gave Merkel a victory but with a margin so slim Schroeder's party demanded equal treatment in a "grand coalition." To resolve the impasse, the Social Democrats gave up Germany's leadership, but the party secured the bulk of the ministries, including the prestigious Foreign Ministry.

"I feel good," she told reporters with a broad smile. "But I have a lot of work ahead of me," reports the AP.

Her victory not only ended a three-week political stalemate that followed an inconclusive election in September, but capped a remarkable comeback for Mrs. Merkel, who had held a commanding lead in the opinion polls until the final weeks of the campaign.

In the days after the vote, both Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Schroeder claimed to have won a mandate to govern, and both insisted on being chancellor in any coalition government. But Mr. Schroeder, who had said that Mrs. Merkel would never be chancellor, gradually lost support with the public and, reportedly, his own party, and has now agreed to step aside. According to German news reports, Mr. Schroeder has told intimates that he will play no role in the coalition government.

"We have achieved something big," Mrs. Merkel, the head of the Christian Democratic Union, said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.

Still, in exchange for her deal with the Social Democratic Party Mrs. Merkel clearly was forced to make major concessions, giving the Social Democrats control of 8 of 14 ministries in the new government, including such key posts as finance, foreign affairs, labor and justice. Mrs. Merkel and her allies received the ministries of economy, defense, interior, agriculture, education and family.

To some the "grand coalition" that many have spoken of will prove to be a formula for a kind of gridlock, perpetuating the very conditions - too much social spending and too little labor market flexibility - that are the root causes of Germany's economic stagnation.

"The Social Democrats exacted a high price for the chancellorship of Merkel," said Oswald Metzger, a finance expert and member of the Green Party. "We're going to see a new alliance for the old social welfare state in Germany," informs the New York Times.


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