World From Berlin: The SPD 'Has to Negotiate' with Merkel
The Social Democrats hate the idea of a coalition with Angela Merkel, but media commentators say the party will probably have to accept one -- and could even benefit if it extracts the right price. A Merkel coalition with the Greens is possible, but unlikely.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, five seats short of a majority despite her historic election victory on Sunday, would prefer to form a grand coalition with the center-left Social Democrats. She tried to call SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel at 9 a.m. on Monday. He found time to speak to the world's most powerful woman at 11 a.m., a two-hour delay that highlighted his party's deep reluctance to join her in government.
The SPD fears that four years in government as junior partner to Merkel would cost it millions more votes at the next election, just like the last time it cooperated with her in her first term from 2005 to 2009. It slumped to its worst ever result in a federal election, 23.0 percent, in 2009 when Merkel and her conservatives took all the credit for the good work that government had done in steering Germany through the financial crisis.
Germany now faces months of difficult talks to form a new government. Media commentators say that despite the SPD's misgivings, a grand coalition remains the most likely outcome, and that Merkel is likely to pay a heavy price in terms of cabinet posts and policy concessions. Some say the SPD may demand the powerful post of finance minister, currently occupied by heavyweight Wolfgang Schäuble. He's highly respected, not just in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, but in the country. A poll published on Wednesday showed that nearly three in four Germans want Schäuble, 71, to remain finance minister.
While a grand coalition would be the simpler option for Merkel, and is preferred by the majority of Germans, a coalition with the Greens could be better for the country, SPIEGEL argues in a special edition on the election published on Wednesday.
The conservatives and Greens are in fact quite close ideologically -- they agree on the need for environmental sustainability, on budget discipline and on an economic policy that caters more to the "Mittelstand" of small- and medium-sized business than large industrial conglomerates. There could be scope for compromises in tax and social policy.
The conservatives and SPD are a better fit on energy policy because they both support fossil fuel plants, says SPIEGEL, but a conservative-Green alliance could actually make more progress by pushing ahead more forcefully with the expansion of decentralized renewable energy plants and the necessary development of the power grid.
However a major drawback of a conservative-green coalition would be that it wouldn't have a majority in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that comprises the governments of Germany's 16 federal states. A grand coalition, on the other hand, would. Besides, Merkel's powerful conservative ally Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian governor who heads the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, has all but ruled out supporting a coalition with the Greens.
Media commentators say the SPD is likely to end up agreeing to a grand coalition. If it doesn't, and if talks with the Greens were to fail, there would have to be a new election -- and Germany's voters would probably punish the SPD for having neglected its national responsibility to give the country a stable government.
Left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"It seems very doubtful that the Greens, which have shifted decidedly to the left recently and are going through a period of intense inner turmoil, would abrubtly switch sides and join the opposing political camp. But if they did, the consequences for the SPD would be dramatic: It would have lost its most important coalition partner, all dreams of one day having a left-wing coalition of SPD, Greens and Left Party would be dashed, and the SPD would be banished to the opposition alongside the Left Party for a long time to come."
"A new election is a more likely scenario. Given the fact that the public wants a grand coalition, the SPD would need damned good reasons to refuse talks or let them fail. In either case, the election-weary voters would be angry. The supposed blockers of the SPD would be punished at the ballot box -- not the popular chancellor and her conservatives. The Social Democrats will therefore have to negotiate."
"If Sigmar Gabriel manages to push through central demands, a grand coalition could still offer positive prospects for the SPD: It could reconcile the party with its own unpopular social reforms of the past by implementing a real minimum wage, limiting temporary work contracts and introducing a more effective pension for the long-term unemployed and low-wage earners. That wouldn't be the worst record for a Vice Chancellor Gabriel in the 2017 election -- especially as the opponent then probably won't be Angela Merkel."
Tabloid Bild writes:
"The Greens have lost their pride. They're sitting on a pile of rubble. Right on top stands Trittin, always a know-it-all. He wanted to win the election by hiking taxes and forcing us to eat vegetables once a week. His initial response to his own failure in the child sex scandal was silence. But it wasn't just his fault. The others let him do whatever he wanted. They followed him obediently to their downfall. This was merely a pale shadow of the party that once revamped the country and refused to bow down."
"They need a new, unspent leadership. With a sense of what people want rather than rigid self-serving posturing by their leaders. Otherwise they'll be yesterday's party!"
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"In their election manifesto, the Greens tried to present themselves as the best, most intelligent and most accomplished party on the left of the political spectrum. They tried to show themselves as the spirited hedgehog, as opposed to the despondent hare that is the SPD. But voters didn't buy into the fable. And now, the hedgehog would rather curl up than challenge the CDU to another race."
"An alliance with the CDU is something that the Greens have not prepared for. It is thought that negotiations with the Christian Democrats will cement the roles of the party's old leadership. But this is a misconception -- a leadership shake-up is already underway, with party leader Jürgen Trittin and his two parliamentary group leaders having announced their intentions to step down."
"Is this level of responsibility going to be the future of the Greens? Will the party be satisfied to be the last to speak in parliament, after the leaders of a grand coalition, and the new leader of the opposition, [Left Party parliamentary group leader] Gregor Gysi? In order to prove to its voters that it is commited to realizing its political goals, the Greens have to take the option of participating in a CDU-led government seriously. Its refusal to do so will be interpreted as cowardice."
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"A CDU-Green Party coalition -- unthinkable in the eyes of Christian Social Union leader Horst Seehofer? Of course, Seehofer prefers the prospect of a grand coalition. It would spare him some tough confrontations. And the CSU could get more done with the SPD."
"However, a CDU-Greens coalition is no longer a question of if, but when. Who would take over the party's top post? Seehofer would prefer not to have to talk with Jürgen Trittin or Volker Beck. But he wouldn't have to anyway: The Greens are facing a political reboot, both in terms of its political course and its leadership."
David Crossland and Friederike Heine
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