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Germany: Habemus Government

After almost half a year after the elections of Germany’s Bundestag (federal parliament), a new government saw the light of day in mid-March. It will be led, as before, by Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Party, CDU) as Kanzlerin and Olaf Scholz (Social Democratic Party, SPD), the so far Mayor of the city of Hamburg, as her deputy. 

There are many new faces among cabinet ministers. One of them is the 47-year-old Anja Maria-Antonia Karliczek, who is the new head of the Federal ministry for education and research (BMBF).  An active member of the CDU for the past 20 years, she was mainly active in local politics until she became a member of the Bundestag in 2013. Ms Karliczek holds a degree in business studies. In her parliamentary work so far, she has concentrated on economic policy and SMEs, on family-related issues and on developing models for a better work-life balance. She has no track record in education and research issues.

The coalition agreement between the CDU, its Bavarian sister CSU and the SPD, which together form the new government, was welcomed by Horst Hippler, the President of Germany’s rectors conference (HRK), and indeed it sounds promising for the relative centrality of higher education and research and the level of federal funding allocated to it. This is another step forward, after the softening of the controversial “cooperation ban”, which in the past has made it very difficult to create synergies between federal and regional funding, leading to the nonsense that the federal government was not allowed to co-fund state or university-led projects. The new agreement raises high hopes that this paradox will soon be put an end to, thanks to a growing involvement of the federal government in the funding of universities, for the students’ good sake. However, higher education and research will continue to be an exclusive competence of the Länder, which will continue to bear the biggest share of the costs of the HE, connected to the administration. 

The way this government was formed and the time it took is unrivaled in Germany’s postwar history. The SPD had announced on the night of the September elections that they would not enter into a “grand coalition” with the Union parties anymore. They had attributed the party’s bad election result to the fact that it had entered in the last two legislative periods as a junior party into a government with the Union parties, with the result that the CDU managed to claim all successes. What followed was the attempt to form a Jamaica coalition of the two Union parties, the Greens, and the liberals, which exploded when the liberals pulled out. After a period of intense inner-party discussions, the SPD changed its mind and decided to negotiate with the Union parties. This finally led to the new government. Among the many prominent victims of the process was Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament, who was welcomed as his party’s “saviour” when he relocated from Brussels to Germany a year ago. Now he holds no position in the party anymore, apart from keeping his Bundestag seat. 

Photo: Anja Maria-Antonia Karliczek (source: