Martin Schulz, the embattled leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), will take over as foreign minister in a move likely to infuriate the German voters who opted for more eurosceptic parties in last year’s election.
The former European Union president suffered a disastrous election, but Mrs Merkel’s poor results insured he would be a key part of the coaltion, which was finally agreed today.
And Mr Schulz hailed the deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives as a watershed moment for European policy.
Referencing the Chancellor and Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian sister party of Mrs Merkel’s conservatives, Mr Schulz said: “You’ll forgive me for thanking Mrs Merkel and Mr Seehofer, especially regarding the European policy chapter of this deal, because what we wrote down in this coalition agreement about the European Union and its future will be a fundamental change of direction in Europe.
“With this coalition agreement, Germany will take an active and leading role in the European Union again.”
Mr Schulz, who originally ruled out going into coalition with Mrs Merkel’s centre-right CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU, was locked in talks for days as Germany’s four-month wait for a new government comes to an end.
The coalition deadlock prompted speculation the 63-year-old Chancellor could be forced to step down but, after long negotiations and a series of “painful comprises”, it now appears Mrs Merkel will continue as the German leader for another term.
However, any deal still needs to be approved by by the SPD’s 464,000 members, who could yet vote against another grand coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
Mr Schulz yesterday called the coalition deal “a new dawn for Europe” and an “end to the diktat of austerity”.
Alice Weidel, leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the biggest opposition party, tweeted: “Things could not get worse for Germany,” calling the coalition deal “insane” as it did not contain an upper limit for migration.
Speaking in December, Mr Schulz called on EU member states to sign up to a “United States of Europe” by 2025 or risk being kicked out of the bloc.
He called for a new treaty to formally convert the EU into the United States of Europe, along the lines of the United States, though bizarrely claimed this was “no threat” to individual countries.
The socialist leader, who humiliatingly led his party to its worst ever showing in September’s general election, has seen his popularity wane further after rowing back on plans to avoid reentering a coalition with Merkel’s CDU.
Senior conservative Volker Kauder said Schulz’s European proposal posed “a danger to the EU and citizens’ approval of Europe” while Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chancellery chief, said the SPD’s timeframe was unrealistic.
Lauder told the Tagesspiegel newspaper he believes European citizens want the “reliability that they believe they can find in national states”, but admitted strengthening Europe remains an important policy.
He added: “The proposal would also jeopardise the work of unification that is unique in the history of the world because the majority of member states certainly wouldn’t participate in creating a united states.”
Altmaier admitted he was surprised by Schulz’s proposal and instead believes it would be more effective to tackle specific issues, such as unemployment and immigration.
He told the Rheinische Post newspaper: “The discussion about whether Europe should be a federal state, confederation or a united states is one for academics and journalists – not for German foreign policy.
“A United States of Europe would transfer member states’ sovereignty to Brussels and there would not be a majority for that in many EU states.”