Having initially ruled out joining the government, Martin Schultz’s party has performed a screeching U-turn. The long-term consequences for his party—and for Germany—could be severeby Leopold Traugott / January 16, 2018 / Leave a comment
“We are not available to join another grand coalition.” It was less than two months ago that Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), categorically rejected the idea of joining Chancellor Angela Merkel in government once more. After four years of grand coalition with Merkel’s conservative bloc of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), the three parties together lost 13.9 per cent of their vote share in last September’s federal elections. The SPD itself suffered its worst electoral result since 1949.
Drawing lessons from what had gone wrong, the Social Democrats prescribed themselves four years of reflection and renewal in parliamentary opposition. Or so they thought, until coalition negotiations for the only other stable government option available to Germany—a “Jamaica Coalition” of Conservatives, Greens and Free Democrats—collapsed. After much back and forth, the talks which were originally “open-ended” between the Social Democrats and Merkel’s conservatives on Friday ended in an announcement that both parties would seek to negotiate another grand coalition. It’s not all sewn up yet, but with the party leaderships on board formal talks are likely to succeed.
So to the joy of some and disappointment of others, the SPD looks to have done a complete turnaround. What might be positive for Europe in the short run however, is likely to prove harmful for the party itself.
Many SPD supporters are clearly unhappy with the idea. A recent poll by public broadcaster ZDF indicated that 49 percent of them feel negatively about the prospect of another such coalition. The party’s youth wing unanimously adopted a resolution against a new grand coalition back in November. Now that the party leadership has officially announced it wants formal coalition negotiations, the first SPD MPs have made public their intention to thwart this plan. Indeed, in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and Berlin, the Social Democratic branch has already voted against it.
Other parties could ignore such discontent in their own ranks. Not the Social Democrats. The party occasionally grants decision-making powers on key questions to its members, and has pledged do so on this new coalition. At an extraordinary party conference on 21st January, 600 SPD delegates, representing the party’s rank-and-file, will be asked to give the green light for formal negotiations. Later, once a final coalition agreement is reached, this will be put to a vote…