Potential coalition divides German centre-left

[Photo: Adam Berry/EU/AFP-Service]

Talks between the centre-right CDU/CSU party with the centre-left SPD on the possibility of renewing their coalition to govern Germany, has produced a 28-page preliminary agreement. Should the SPD accept it, the document would form the backbone of negotiating the concluding deal. It contains a particularly pro-European Union line, aiming at renewing the ‘European project’, as well as increasing cooperation between Germany and France. Despite this, the debate on whether or not to accept this draft agreement has divided the Social Democratic Party.

Both parties have had their worst result in the decades since the Second World War. Originally the SPD leader, Martin Schulz, had ruled out an alliance with the CDU/CSU, currently led by Angela Merkel, arguing that the party would position itself as the main opposition to the government. However, following the collapse of the talks between Merkel’s party, the centre-left Greens and the centre-right FDP, the SPD has reconsidered its position. Nevertheless, the more left wing sections of the party, especially its youth wing the Jusos, oppose the agreement.

Jusos leader Kevin Kühnert has claimed that the party is beating “its head against the same brick wall”. There are fears that it could spell the end of the SPD, since every coalition with the CDU/CSU has resulted in the party being further weakened. Other party members consider that the SPD has given in too much, such as agreeing for a cap on refugee numbers, renouncing the inclusion of more social welfare policies and including things that were already agreed upon by the centre-right in the previous coalition agreements yet were never fulfilled.

The argument was also made that having the SPD in the government would give the AfD an even stronger voice in parliament. The AfD’s right-wing, eurosceptic, anti-migrant platform has made it a pariah in German politics, and a coalition with it has been ruled out by all major parties. However, it was the third most voted party in the federal election, meaning that if the SPD were to join the government, the AfD would become the main op-position.

However, the more right-lean-ing members of the SPD such as the Seeheimer Kreis, have campaigned in favour of the agreement. Its spokesman has argued that refusing to join the coalition could be even more dangerous. A recent opinion poll held after the election has seen the SPD’s support drop by two more points. As such, if the agreement is not ratified then fresh elections could be called that could see the centre-left weakened further. The lack of more social policies in the preliminary agreement could also be addressed in negotiations between the two parties once it is accepted.

Nonetheless, the distrust to-wards the CDU/CSU, as pointed out by Schulz, remains strong, in part due to the party’s past record of not sticking to all the agreements made with the Social Democrats once they were in government. Delegates from the centre-left party are to vote in favour or against the preliminary agreement on Sunday 21 January. The divide can be further seen here, as delegates from Brandenburg and Hamburg are arguing in favour of accepting it, whereas those from Berlin and Saxony-Anhalt largely oppose it.

There is as much of a chance for the SPD to accept a coalition, as to reject one. The acceptance of the agreement could result in further stability for Germany, as well as increasing Franco-German cooperation on national and inter-national issues. Failure to accept it could result in either Merkel forming a minority government or the calling of fresh elections.

A minority government would allow Merkel and her party much more freedom of choice on cabinet positions, but naturally, it would still require a voting majority in order to pass legislation. Policies aimed at strengthening the EU are likely to produce a broad support from other parties. Obtaining some-thing similar from the SPD or the Greens on social policies, however, would be trickier.

As such, Merkel’s own years in office could be numbered. Nonetheless, it is the SPD who are suffering from the strong-est existential fears. A fresh election could probably weaken the parties further, however opinion polls have shown that it would not be a major change: Germany would likely find itself in much the same situation as it is in now.

At the end of the day, whether the agreement is accepted or not, the SPD has divided itself over the issue, raising doubts over its own future.

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