SPD conference to drop plans for an early exit from Merkel coalition

Berlin (dpa) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fragile coalition with the Social Democrats now appears set to run its full term, after the SPD’s new left-wing leadership stepped back from a move at Friday’s party conference to push for an early end to the alliance.

Less than a week after two little-known left wingers, Norbert Walter-Borgans and Saskia Esken, won a party leadership ballot, the SPD’s three-day convention is expected to confirm the two Merkel coalition critics as the party’s new leadership team.

But the conference in Berlin is also not expected to vote on whether to remain part of the coalition with Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU), which has been deeply unpopular with the SPD rank and file.

The SPD conference could, however, result in a swing to the left with the head of the SPD’s youth wing, Kevin Kuehnert – also a coalition sceptic – having announced plans to run for one of the party’s key deputy leader posts.

That way, Kuehnert could join Walter-Borgans and Esken to create a new left-wing troika at the top of Germany’s oldest political party, with the potential to wrest power away from party centrists.

Once a model for social democrats around the world, the SPD has suffered a series of major setbacks in recent years with its support plunging dramatically after many of its voters switched their allegiance to either the hard left or far-right of German politics.

Now, with the SPD having been junior partners in Merkel-led coalitions for all but four of her 14 years in power, many of the SPD’s 425,630 members believe it is time to abandon the alliance to allow the party to regroup and rebuild its electoral base.

Last weekend, Walter-Borgans, a former state finance minister, and national lawmaker Esken, laid down the gauntlet to Merkel.

They demanded extensive revisions to the coalition contract, warning they would abandon the alliance and pull SPD ministers out of Merkel’s government before the next election, which is scheduled for 2021.

But after a protracted leadership battle, Walter-Borgans and Esken were forced to back down from their promise for this week’s party conference to consider its future membership of the coalition, amid pressure from senior party figures and SPD lawmakers.

CDU leaders have also ruled out any changes to the party’s coalition with the SPD, with CDU party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer saying the future of the planned basic pension – a central SPD policy – was dependent on the continuation of coalition.

Instead, the main draft motion for delegates attending the SPD conference – and agreed to by Walter-Borjans and Eskens – is merely a call for dialogue with the CDU-CSU on possible measures to stabilize Germany’s slowing economy, changes to a climate change package that has already agreed to, and raising the minimum wage.

Esken described the motion as a good compromise with Walter-Borjans and the two designated leaders said “we want to build bridges.”

The collapse of the Merkel-led coalition would have represented the first time since 1982 that a national German government coalition pact has broken up in the middle of its term.

Furthermore, at this point, a political crisis in Germany would come at one of the worst times for the European Union as the Brussels-based bloc struggles with Britain’s exit from the EU, trade tensions with Washington, the rise of populism and a sluggish economy.

The SPD last swept to power as head of a national government more than 20 years ago under then-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, winning 40.9 per cent of the vote and paving the way for their coalition with the Greens.

But after the party’s popularity fell to a record low of 20.5 per cent in the 2017 national election, the Social Democrats now have just 14-per-cent support, according to a survey published on Saturday by Berlin pollsters Forsa.

Be the first to comment on "SPD conference to drop plans for an early exit from Merkel coalition"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.