Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) The agreement between Angela Merkel and Martin Schultz of Friday 12th January to begin coalition talks is already in trouble. It has been rejected by part of the Social Democrat SDP party.
No sooner was the ink dry on the agreement to discuss a coalition than reluctant SDP party members made their feelings known.
On Sunday a number of party officials distanced themselves from the outline agreement. Party militants are divided over whether to cooperate with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats or not. A special Congress of the SPD is to be held on 21 January to decide what to do.
Careful study of the agreement between the two parties revealed its tenuous nature with this significant phrase ‘at the midpoint of the mandate we will conduct a review of the coalition contract’. The assumption being that if the party members did not like the way the coalition had conducted itself the SPD be obliged to withdraw halfway through the government’s normal lifetime and force elections.
After tense negotiations Martin Schultz and Angela Merkel had produced a program of 28 pages to serve as a basis for formal negotiations. The document was then endorsed by the leaders of the SDP and the CDU as well as their partners the CSU. Germany is not used to this sort of political uncertainty and there has been considerable pressure on the SPD to rejoin the government. They were reluctant to do this because they suffered electorally for their cooperation with Angela Merkel over the last parliament, with their worst score since the war.
There was general relief when the agreement was announced as Germany has been ruled by a caretaker government for three months with important decisions particularly concerning Europe pending. However, several SPD regions have made it very clear they are not happy notably Hesse and more importantly Nord Rhein Westfalen, the SPD’s strongest region.
Certain top party officials have already openly criticized the agreement. Notably the Mayor of Berlin Michael Müller told the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that the idea of ‘the formation of a new grand coalition without important changes does not convince me.’
Malu Dreyer the director of the Rhineland Pfalz region particularly criticized the provision that limits the number of asylum seekers to 200,000 a year. It is something which is particularly important to Merkel’s two conservative parties who are losing voters to the anti-Euro, anti-Immigration Afd party.
According to an opinion poll published in Der Spiegel, only 41.9% of SDP party supporters approve of the new agreement with the Conservatives. The leader of the young Social Democrat movement, Kevin Kühnert has reportedly started a ‘No Groko’ movement in several towns in opposition to the project. Groko is the popular name of the proposed coalition.
Martin Schultz is to make an important speech on 16 January in Duisburg in which he will aim to convince party members to support the agreement. If he fails, it will be difficult for Angela Merkel to avoid calling new elections in which her own position as leader of the CDU will inevitably be called into question.