Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pressure Grows on Germany’s SPD to Support Merkel
Party considers giving backing to minority centre-right government on key votes

FDP calculates the political odds with walkout

Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats, has so far ruled out a repeat of the so-called ‘grand coalition’ with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc

Tobias Buck and Guy Chazan in Berlin
Financial Times

Germany’s Social Democrats are under mounting pressure to hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel over renewing their coalition or supporting a minority government, in a bid to break the political deadlock in Berlin and avoid new elections.

Martin Schulz, the leader of the SPD, has so far ruled out a repeat of the so-called “grand coalition” with Ms Merkel’s conservative bloc. But his stance has drawn growing criticism, including from senior SPD members, since the chancellor’s attempt to form an alternative coalition deal broke down at the weekend.

On Wednesday a string of SPD lawmakers and senior officials came out in support of fresh negotiations with Ms Merkel, although most insisted that a revival of the grand coalition was unlikely.

They said a better option would be for the chancellor to form a minority government that could draw on Social Democrat support for certain key votes — for example, on the budget or EU policy.

Johannes Fechner, a SPD MP, said: “Neither new elections nor a grand coalition are ideal solutions. So we should only speak about them once it is clear that there is no chance of a minority government.”

Jens Zimmermann, another of the party’s MPs, said: “The mood in the party is that we think it is the responsibility of all sides to explore all options and try to find creative solutions.” He said a repeat of the grand coalition was “difficult and very unlikely” but stressed the SPD was ready “to explore all possibilities, including the option of tolerating a minority government” led by Ms Merkel.
The chancellor herself has made clear in public that she would prefer new elections to a minority government but the mood inside her Christian Democratic Union also appears to be shifting.

A minority government with SPD support “would at least put Merkel back in the driver’s seat”, said a senior CDU MP.

While attention has been focused on how smaller parties could blackmail Ms Merkel if she were leading a minority government, the MP said: “She would have leverage too. She could have a vote of confidence and so trigger new elections at any time — and that could scare the smaller parties.”

A CDU adviser said the mood had shifted in the party from a belief that new elections were inevitable to a sense that Mr Schulz would either accede to pressure to consider a grand coalition or tolerate a CDU-led government.

Mr Schulz is due to meet Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president, on Thursday. Mr Steinmeier, a former SPD foreign minister, has made clear he wants all parties to renew talks and avoid another election.

German politics have been in a state of uncertainty since the general election on September 24, when Ms Merkel led her conservative bloc to a fourth successive election victory but with a sharply reduced majority. The SPD also lost heavily, prompting a pledge from Mr Schulz to rebuild the party in opposition.

That seemed to leave the option of a coalition government between the CDU/CSU, the pro-business Free Democrats and the leftwing Greens, but coalition talks bogged down following disagreements over issues from climate change and migration to tax policy and the future of the eurozone. Negotiators also highlighted the failure to develop trust and confidence between the teams.

On Sunday night, the FDP pulled out of the talks, ending the first ever attempt to build such a cross-party alliance at the federal level.

Analysts said the SPD’s dilemma about how to react came at a particularly difficult time for the party, which hoped to use its time in opposition to rebuild support.

“This process can no longer go ahead the way the party wanted,” said Uwe Jun, a professor of politics at the University of Trier. “They were planning to consult their members, to explore strategic options and also examine their personnel options. All that is no longer possible, especially if there is a new election.”

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