Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) German’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD) have voted to form a grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the CDU/CSU, after months of political uncertainty.
66% of the SPD members approved entering a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU), the social democrats officially confirmed on Sunday, after a postal ballot.
The unprecedented negotiations to form a government have lasted since the September 24 parliamentary elections and have done nothing to enhance Chancellor Merkel’s prestige. The new government will be a repeat of the Grand Coalition that has governed Germany since 2013.
The SPD originally said that they would not renew the Grand Coalition, as it had damaged them electorally. In September they achieved their worst showing since the 2nd World war. But under the influence of leader Martin Schultz and pressure from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, himself a member of the SPD, the party did a 180° U-turn. Fear of further damaging the European project was undoubtedly a factor. This about face was very unpopular amongst grass roots party members notably the youth section lead by Kevin Kuehnert. The stresses and strains within the party during the negotiations have caused Martin Schultz to resign. His probable successor is Andrea Nahles.
The last six months have severely weakened Chancellor Angela Markel and it is an open question how long the new coalition will last. One of the conditions imposed by the SPD to joining was that the government’s performance will have to be reviewed by SPD members after two years. In addition Merkel was obliged to concede the key post of Finance Minister to a member of the SPD Olaf Scholz, although there is little likelihood of major change in Germany’s financial and economic policy.
The new coalition government will be far more contested both without and within than its predecessors. Merkel’s CDU and allied CSU are angry at the concessions that have had to be offered to the SPD over immigration as they fear continuing loss of votes to the rising new anti-Euro and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD). On the other side the SPD have seen their votes slide even further in the opinion polls since the election, which may well be what decided members to support the new coalition. Whilst they fear another coalition with Merkel they feared even more another election, even annihilation, as has happened to the center left in France.
A further difficulty for the new government is the automatic promotion of the AfD to leading opposition party, in place of the SPD, giving it a whole new prominence on the political scene with notably the chair of certain key parliamentary committees. For the center right, the new government will also launch a period of searching for a successor for the weakened Merkel, who fatally ruined her credit with a large part of the electorate by her unilateral decision to admit one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East in 2015.
There will be relief in Brussels that a government that is agreed on a pro-European stance, if on little else, has finally been formed. There will also be concern that that the two parties forming it are evidently increasingly out of touch with the electorate as a whole.