Germany: after months of uncertainty, the SPD validates a new coalition with Merkel

The members of the German Social Democratic Party gave the green light to a new coalition government, more than five months after the elections of which Angela Merkel emerged very weakened. The Chancellor, who is likely to be re-elected in mid-March, promised Sunday to work “for the good of the country.”

“I look forward to continuing our collaboration for the good of our country,” responded the Chancellor in a tweet posted by her conservative party.

This fourth term, and probably the last according to observers, however, promises to be much more delicate than the previous ones. “A new start on a wobbly basis”, summarizes the online edition of the S├╝ddeutsche Zeitung in a comment Sunday.

The coalition between social democrats and conservatives holds only a slight majority in the Bundestag (just over 53%), after the general elections of 24 September marked by a historic breakthrough of the far right (AfD) and an erosion of traditional parties .

The SPD pulls out of the game

It is in this context and after weeks of procrastination that SPD activists approved the renewal of the outgoing grand coalition by 66.02% of the vote in an internal referendum. Some 78.4% of the 463,000 members of the SPD participated, according to the official results of the consultation.

“Things are now clear: the SPD will participate in the next government,” said its interim leader, Olaf Scholz. But illustrating the hesitations in his ranks, he described the result as “an act of reason”.

The SPD leadership had negotiated an agreement with the Chancellor in February, and the approval of the members of Germany’s oldest party was essential for the formation of a government.

Angela Merkel never so much criticized

Merkel, who has headed Germany for 12 years, is expected to be formally elected chancellor by MEPs in mid-March, probably on 14 May.

But as a sign of mutual mistrust, the coalition contract provides for an exit clause after two years.

The 63-year-old Chancellor has never been so much criticized in her party, which she has led for about two decades.

Especially since it has ceded to the SPD the Ministry of Finance, traditional preserve of conservatives very attached to fiscal austerity.

Several leaders of the Christian Democratic Party have openly questioned the centrist line defended by Angela Merkel and its long-term migration policy that has seen the arrival since 2015 of more than one million asylum seekers.

These positions have fed according to them the rise of the far right, and they claim a sharp right turn.

Faced with the growl, she imposed a close – and potential successor to the Chancellery – Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, as general secretary of the CDU with mission to close ranks. She also called on the Ministry of Health’s main detractor, the young and ambitious Jens Spahn, to neutralize his influence, at least for now.

The importance of German political stability in Europe

Nevertheless, the advent of a stable executive in Germany is likely to relieve in the country and also in Europe, shaken by the Brexit crisis and the rise of nationalisms.

“Good news for Europe”, responded the French head of state Emmanuel Macron. Paris and Berlin “will work together in the coming weeks (…) to advance the European project,” he added.

“GroGO! For solidarity in Germany and the EU! Tweeted Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans.

In their government contract, the two partners put the reform of the European Union at the heart of their priorities. Germany is now ready “for a stronger Europe,” EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici reacted on Twitter.

The SPD in free fall, the far right popular

The SPD, falling in the polls due to internal quarrels, would have preferred to recharge in the opposition after a historically low score in the elections (20.5%).

But the failure of government negotiations between conservatives, environmentalists and liberals in November had decided otherwise.

For the young socialists, who led an active campaign against the grand coalition (“Groko” in German), the result is “a disappointment,” responded their leader Kevin K├╝hnert in a tweet, promising to contribute to the renewal of the party. “We start tomorrow! He writes.

The recent disastrous polls placing the SPD side-by-side with the far right have brought out a new “Groko” as a lesser evil for the majority of party members.

Especially since the SPD and its former deposed leader Martin Schulz have, according to the general opinion, rather well negotiated their agenda, obtaining several concessions in health or employment and managing to land six ministries, including Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Finance, as much as the party of Angela Merkel.

The other German political parties have welcomed the announcement, except for the Radical Left and the AfD. “The bill will arrive no later than 2021,” warned in a tweet Alice Weidel, co-chair of the parliamentary group of the far-right party. On that date, she said, her party will become “the second largest opposition force in Germany”.