Pressure on SPD to join Merkel in alliance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Nov 21, 2017 in Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on Nov 21, 2017 in Berlin. PHOTO: AFP

But party officials are not being swayed amid push to return to grand coalition

BERLIN • Pressure is mounting on Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) to join Chancellor Angela Merkel in a revived alliance and end the impasse threatening political stability in Europe's largest economy.

While Dr Merkel has publicly stated she is open to another election, her backers are betting that the SPD will abandon its aversion to a rerun of the "grand coalition", according to people familiar with discussions in Berlin.

That alliance of Germany's two biggest parties underpinned two of Dr Merkel's three terms, including the last four years.

"We need SPD to take a position," Ms Claudia Roth, vice-president of the German Bundestag and a Green party negotiator in the failed four-way coalition talks, said yesterday.

"It's now about dealing responsibly with the voting results."

After talks with the Greens and Free Democrats collapsed on Sunday, another grand coalition would require overcoming resistance by SPD leaders as well as the rank and file, after the party emerged battered from previous pacts.

The appeal for a change of course focuses on the need for German stability at a critical time for the country and the European Union, amid nationalist pressures and challenges posed by Brexit. 

For the time being, SPD officials are not being swayed.

TAKING A STAND

We need SPD to take a position. It's now about dealing responsibly with the voting results.

MS CLAUDIA ROTH, vice-president of the German Bundestag and a Green party negotiator in the failed four-way coalition talks.

"We made a firm decision on Monday that we will not shy away from new elections," SPD deputy leader Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF yesterday.

"Given what has happened, the people must have another chance to have their say. We currently see no basis for a grand coalition."

It is very important to avoid allowing the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany from becoming the main opposition group in Parliament, Mr Schaefer-Guembel added.

The main argument for an SPD about-face is that a grand coalition would be the lesser of two evils.

Refusing a role in government and holding out for new elections could lead to even weaker results after the Social Democrats slumped to their worst showing since World War II in the September ballot.

The next day, leader Martin Schulz said: "I will never join a government with Angela Merkel."

Current circumstances could change that. Dr Merkel told ZDF television on Monday that she is hoping the SPD "will reflect very intensely about whether they should step up and take responsibility".

For both the SPD and Dr Merkel's Christian Democrat-led bloc, there may be more risk than reward in returning to the polls.

Their combined support declined to 51 per cent from the poor September results of 53.4 per cent, according to an Insa/YouGov poll conducted Monday.

"A grand coalition would mean continuity and stability in Germany and would therefore be desirable," said Berenberg chief economist Holger Schmieding.

"But the Social Democrats would demand a high price for such an alliance, and that wouldn't necessarily be good for the German economy."

The push for a grand coalition appears to have an important ally in President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's non-partisan head of state who on Monday urged all political parties to reconsider their positions.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Pressure on SPD to join Merkel in alliance'. Print Edition | Subscribe