RPT: REVIEW - Merkel Cabinet In Limbo Again After New Leftist SPD Leaders Threaten To Exit Coalition

RPT: REVIEW - Merkel Cabinet in Limbo Again After New Leftist SPD Leaders Threaten to Exit Coalition

BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 03rd December, 2019) The weekend election of a leftist leadership by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has become another cold shower for Germany's ruling coalition, with the victorious critics of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government now not ruling out pulling the party out of it unless the governing deal is renegotiated.

Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken were surprisingly elected as new party leaders, beating the expected winners Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and vice-chancellor, and Klara Geywitz by eight points in a runoff on Saturday.

The new leaders have swiftly demanded concessions from the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), warning that otherwise the coalition would not be able to continue.

The candidacies of the two co-leaders are to be endorsed at a party conference on December 6, with the vote on the coalition also on the agenda.

ANOTHER BLOW TO 'GROKO' ALLIANCE

The bold statement from the partner SPD party comes amid dropping electoral support for both the CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats themselves.

In the September 2017 general election, the CDU/CSU was still the first party with 33 percent, though the CDU suffered a large downward swing of more than 8 percent. The SPD, in turn, registered its worst result since World War II, gaining only 20.5 percent of the vote.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) previously not represented in the Bundestag became the third party with 12.6 percent of the vote, whilst the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) won 10.7 percent of the vote and returned to the parliament after losing all their seats in the 2013 election. It was the first time since 1957 that a party to the right of the CDU/CSU union, AfD, gained seats in the Bundestag.

The other parties to achieve representation in the Bundestag were the Left Party and the Greens, which each won close to 9 percent of the vote.

If the subsequent regional and municipal elections which have further sent the ruling coalition numbers falling and the AfD support rising are mirrored in the 2021 Federal election, it will be a rout for both parties in the GroKo, the "Grosse Koalition" of CDU/CSU and SPD. AfD, in turn, has the chances to become the second party in Germany.

The CDU/CSU and SPD, which have been at the helm of Germany since World War II, are now desperately seeking to recover their former dominance.

An attempt of the SPD to rejuvenate its policies with a large dose of leftist proposals was to be expected as the GroKo alliance is facing rejection from rank and file SPD members, alarmed at the party's recent electoral decline.

Speaking after the Saturday election, Esken described the coalition as "rubbish" for the country's democracy. She also reiterated her call for a renegotiation of the 2018 coalition agreement a demand that has so far been firmly rejected by Merkel and her party.

The leadership wants a sharp rise in spending on infrastructure, tougher legislation to combat climate change and a large stimulus package to help the German economy, which risks entering recession. The SPD wants to increase the minimum wage and calls for the government to abandon the central fiscal policy of balancing the federal budget, known as the "schwarze Null" or the "black zero." Endebtment, in this connection, seems the only way to allow for more spending on infrastructure and welfare programs.

The new party co-leaders have, however, stopped short of demanding an immediate SPD withdrawal from the coalition.

Anyway, the SPD internal election results reflect the tensions developing in German politics. The traditional parties are being increasingly challenged, while AfD, the Left Party, the Greens and the Liberals are all on the rise.

The future of Merkel's government is in doubt again. It took more than six months to negotiate the present GroKo. If they need to renegotiate, how long will it take?

Detlef Seif, the CDU spokesman in the Bundestag, told the German press on Sunday that the party could not give up its principles just to keep the grand coalition alive. To the contrary, the party needs to highlight its read lines instead of keeping making concessions to the SPD, according to the politician.

No major declaration for the moment has yet been made by the SPD itself.

Walter-Borjans disagreed that the coalition was on the brink of collapse, offering to "wait and see."

Esken, in turn, recognized the need to "bring the party together" to succeed, saying that "we extend our hands to everyone.

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The opposition parties are, meanwhile, reacting. The first reaction came from the party most threatened by the leftist course that the SPD is going to take. It is the Left Party (Die Linke), founded by former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine.

Ulla Jelpke, a member of parliament from the Left Party, does not rule out that the CDU/CSU would agree to concessions, noting, however, that it might face an opposition within its own ranks.

"Within the CDU/CSU, there are also strong forces who, for their part, prefer to end the coalition today and replace Chancellor Merkel tomorrow. These forces will block such concessions, also because they are afraid to scare off voters to the Far-right," Jelpke told Sputnik.

Asked whether The Left viewed the planned SPD evolution as a threat, Jelpke replied in the affirmative, albeit being skeptical that one should expect a real overhaul of the party policies.

"It is possible that some Social Democratic voters, who out of frustration over the neo-liberal SPD policy in recent years have turned their backs on their party and elected the Left, will now vote again for a more Social Democratic-oriented SPD. But a new, slightly left party leadership does not make a new party. The whole apparatus of the SPD is dominated by the Neo-liberal Agenda 2010, concocted by the bureaucrats of the [Gerhard] Schröder era. We should wait and see how things really develop and whether it actually comes to a break with this policy or just about new red paint on the old rusty SPD," she said.

The lawmaker, however, noted that she would welcome a new coalition on the left, with the Greens, the SPD and Die Linke.

"For without the mass of Social Democrats, we in Germany will not be able to accomplish a policy change towards a more social-minded society," she pointed out.

She went on to note that a real change of policy would also entail another foreign policy, including an "end of the Bundeswehr war effort abroad, the arms exports to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other countries, etc., and ultimately a critical distance from NATO."

"I hardly believe that a Social Democratic renewed SPD will change here," she concluded.

GOODBYE TO CHANCE OF HAVING SPD CHANCELLOR?

AfD, in turn, is confident that the new leadership is a "disaster for the SPD and will further accelerate its decline," a party co-leader in the Bundestag told Sputnik.

"At the same time, by abandoning Olaf Scholz, one of the last SPD politicians to have the charisma and competences to be a candidate for Chancellor, the SPD says goodbye to its last chance of having their own chancellor candidate and will probably have to support the probable chancellor candidate of the Greens, Robert Habeck, at the next general election," Alexander Gauland said.

According to Gauland, the SPD is "completely and only concerned with itself," having lost connection with the electorate.

"They don't know the hardship of life for so many people. Under these circumstances, GroKo, the 'Grand coalition' has no future, even if it manages to last until the end of the legislature," he argued.

Gilles Lebreton, a European Parliament member from France's right-wing National Rally, meanwhile, noted that "the SPD that was once the party of Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder is moving left to try and regain part of the electorate it has lost to Die Linke."

According to the lawmaker, the SPD is "stuck" with the support of 15 percent and is "dreaming of a coalition firmly anchored on the Left, with the Greens and Die Linke, often presented on the right as the heirs of Eric Honecker and the communist DDR."

"The SPD might increase its score by spurring the fervor of the those fighting populism, but it will also lose voters to the AfD, paving the way for a coalition CDU / AfD, which is unimaginable today," he told Sputnik.

Now, however, the SPD withdrawal from the coalition threatens to leave Merkel with a choice to either continue with a minority government or call a snap election. The latter option could leave Germany without a clear leadership at a particularly sensitive time for European politics, where French President Emmanuel Macron already seems to have overtaken the initiative. Berlin is, meanwhile, due to assume 6-month rotating EU presidency in the second half of next year.

Another option is to negotiate a few changes in the program of the coalition with the SPD and try to come to the 2021 election with a coalition intact.

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