Germany's SPD gives green light to formal coalition talks with Merkel

Germany have moved a step closer to forming a new government after the centre-left Social Democratic group voted for coalition negotiations with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives

(Photo: BBC)
(Photo: BBC)

Germany have moved a step closer to forming a new government after the centre-left Social Democratic group (SPD) voted for coalition negotiations with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, their former coalition partners.

Earlier this month the two groups agreed a blueprint for formal talks.

At a special SPD congress in Bonn, 56% of the party’s delegates voted in favour of moving on the second and final stage of coalition talks with Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

CDU and its Bavarian CSU ally have been unable to form a government since September's inconclusive election.

SPD’s party leader, Martin Schulz, was welcomed with sarcastic applause and even saw a standing ovation from his fiercest critics.

Initially, the party ruled out governing with Merkel in charge again, but Schulz changed his mind after CDU/CSU coalition talks with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens broke down.

The caution green light provides major relief not just for Germany’s leaders, but also European heads of government, who have been holding off major strategic decisions since federal actions in September.

Merkel welcomed the Social Democrat’s decision to approve formal coalition talks. This is her last realistic shot of forming a government and avoiding fresh elections.

However, it is far from a done deal, as many Social Democrats blame Merkel for the pool election result in September, and there is still significant opposition within the party to another four years as her junior coalition partner.

If and when talks produce a formal agreement, all 440,000 members will be asked to approve the deal through a postal ballot.

This is Germany's longest post-war period of coalition-building.

“The SPD must and will be visible, audible and recognisable,” Schulz had vowed at the end of a week spent rallying support at party offices across the country.

The former president of the European parliament defended the results of the initial phase of talks with Merkel’s party, insisting the resulting coalition paper represented a “revolution” in German education policy, as well as “a manifesto for a European Germany”.

“If we want to shape things in and for Europe, then we cannot wait a few more years,” he told the party congress. “Important decisions have to be made now – not in three, four, five years.”

During last year’s election campaign, SPD had made a plan to abolish Germany’s dual public-private health insurance system in favour of a single “citizen’s insurance” – a policy now absent from the coalition papers.

With so many voting against their leader’s recommendation, a mere show of hands did not yield a visible majority. After a nervous delay, an official count showed that 362 delegates out of 642 had endorsed the party’s official line.

Following the September elections at which the SPD was punished with the worst national election result since Germany became a federal republic in 1949, many supporters believe the party needs to reinvent itself in opposition.

Kevin Kunhert said he felt his party was trapped in an 'endless loop' of coalition-forming. (Photo: The Guardian)
Kevin Kunhert said he felt his party was trapped in an 'endless loop' of coalition-forming. (Photo: The Guardian)

Kevin Kühnert, the leader of the SPD’s youth branch, said he felt his party was trapped in an ‘endless loop’ of coalition-forming. The lukewarm reaction to Schulz’s speech had contrasted with enthusiastic applause for the 28-year-old leader of the Young Socialists, the SPD’s youth branch.

Kevin Kühnert, the leader of the SPD’s youth branch, has become the most prominent face of the internal campaign against a renewal of the alliance that has governed Germany for the past four years. Kühnert said he felt his party was trapped in an “endless loop” of coalition-forming under Merkel: “We don’t want to, but we have to.”

The next phase of coalition talks are likely to take two to three weeks, and the SPD are insisting on putting the coalition treaty that will emerge from it to a vote among its members. The waiting for a new German government capable of making decisions is likely to continue until the end of February.

If talks fail, Merkel could form a less stable minority government with the Greens, with SPD support. However, she has previously said she would prefer a fresh election.

 

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