SPD backs new leadership critical of remaining in Merkel coalition

Berlin (dpa) – Germany’s ailing Social Democrats (SPD) in a surprise vote on Saturday backed a new leadership team sceptical about continuing the party’s fragile alliance with Angela Merkel, raising doubts about the future of the chancellor-led coalition.

The SPD announced that a former state finance minister, Norbert Walter-Borjans, and SPD lawmaker Saskia Esken had won the run-off ballot for the centre-left party’s leadership. They defeated Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his co-candidate Klara Geywitz.

With about 53 per cent of the vote, Walter-Borjans and Esken’s success could decide the fate of Merkel’s conservative-led coalition with the SPD and her future grip on power.

The SPD’s annual conference set down for next Friday in Berlin now has to sign off on the new leadership team and to consider the party’s role in the Merkel-led coalition in the run-up to the next national election scheduled for 2021.

The 67-year-old Walter-Borjans said following the announcement of the ballot that the party needed “to stay together” with the 58-year-old Esken echoing his remarks, saying it was not a question of victory or defeat but rather keeping the SPD together.

In an interview with German television N-TV, Walter-Borjans also said he did not see the Merkel-led coalition as being in the interests of the country or the SPD.

Esken and Walter-Borjans, who was finance minister in the state of North Rhine Westphalia for seven years, have made their support for the continuation of the coalition conditional on the conservative coalition partners agreeing to renegotiate the alliance.

This includes an agreement to raise the minimum wage as well as a massive investment in climate measures and the nation’s infrastructure, as a result taking aim at Berlin’s tight fiscal controls under its balanced budget, which has been a key feature of Merkel’s period as chancellor.

Consequently, any moves to renegotiate the coalition agreement are likely to meet with stiff opposition from Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

On Saturday evening the CDU ruled out any changes to the coalition agreement. “We look forward to working together in a spirit of trust for the benefit of our country,” CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak said.

Ziemiak said the contract agreed had already set the foundation for CDU/SPD cooperation. “And today’s decision makes no change to that foundation.”

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