After rejecting a Grand Coalition, SPD's Sigmar Gabriel seeks to keep the hopes alive despite little party support. Why?
- Heading into the last election, SPD failed to distinguish itself. Voters reacted appropriately, abandoning SPD, leading to its worst performance ever.
- When SPD initially declined the opportunity to form a government, Merkel attempted a three-way coalition of CDU/CSU, FDP, and the Greens.
- Differences were irreconcilable, and FDP broke off discussion.
- Under pressure from the German president, a largely symbolic position, CDU/CSU and SPD are now back in talks
No Rank-and-File Support
Within the SPD, there is little or no support for another Grand Coalition. Party members want a new election, fearing, rightfully so, that another compromise is likely to cost SPD votes at the next election, and likely sooner than later because a coalition cannot last.
Today, Eurointelligence notes the SPD regional party preemptively rejected another grand coalition, before the talks even start. But the talks will start anyway.
It may not mean all that much that the SPD organization in a state of Thuringia has already, and preemptively, rejected the grand coalition. The talks haven't even started, there is no deal on the table and, who knows, Martin Schulz may pull off a few surprises in the upcoming talks.
But, as of now, we sense no support for a grand coalition and no shift in the overwhelmingly negative views of SPD members. [Yet] two senior SPD leaders spoke at the regional party congress: the deputy leader Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel and Carsten Schneider, who represent the left and right wings of the party respectively, and who both support the official policy of seeking talks with the CDU/CSU.
One of the people who is pressing hard for a new grand coalition is Sigmar Gabriel, who hopes to secure the job of finance minister in such a construction. He writes in Der Spiegel that it does not matter for the survival of the SPD whether it is in government or not. This is a statement many SPD members, including Schulz, do not agree with.
Gabriel is urging the party to shift to the right by embracing a nationalist concept - the notion of the innate superiority of German culture ("Leitkultur"), a notion once championed but later dropped by the CDU, and bitterly opposed by all the other parties in the Bundestag.
Eurointelligence provides the answer: "It is astonishing to see the extremes people go to in order to keep their ministerial limousines."
Bingo. People do not like giving up power and benefits like free limousines.
I have no use for the SPD, but even less for political hacks looking out for themselves.
Dangers of a New Grand Coalition
The National Interest discusses The Danger of Establishing a New Grand Coalition in Germany.
Three months ago German voters rejected the colorless status quo. The two traditional governing parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD), hemorrhaged votes, together barely collecting half the total, which was down two-thirds from four years before.
The liberal Free Democrats reentered the Bundestag. More dramatically, the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) won almost 13 percent of the vote and became the third largest party.
Chancellor since 2005, Merkel advertised herself as being a pair of “safe hands” for Germany. But she, more than anyone else, is responsible for the rise of the political extremists. By squeezing serious disagreement and debate out of the political system, she destroyed the credibility of the centrist parties, fueling Die Linke and the AfD.
Merkel’s ratings dropped and the AfD surged. As the number of refugees subsequently dropped the chancellor hoped to repeat her past dominance. But then the CDU/CSU suffered its worst result since 1949, looking good only in comparison with the hapless Social Democrats.
Another grand coalition might be convenient in the short term, but likely would prove corrosive in the long term. As long as nothing seems to change under the two main parties, voters will be more likely to seek alternatives that offer a choice rather than an echo. That risks further disintegration of the center and a rise of the extremes.
Although not a fascist party, despite its illiberal positions and rhetoric, the AfD has moved politics to the right of the CDU/CSU. The AfD could further drift toward extremism—nationalists defeated moderates at its recent party congress—opening historic wounds. That is more likely if the CDU/CSU joins with the SPD, again demonstrating that there is not so much as a euro of difference between the main parties.
Although Merkel undoubtedly feels more comfortable with the center-left, which shares her belief in little other than governing, she should consider trying to forge a coalition with the FDP and AfD. Forging another formless, valueless coalition primarily intended to ensure outsiders stay out is only likely to increase the appeal of the AfD. Indeed, the latter would become the formal opposition in the Bundestag, making it the most visible agent of change.
Coalition Cannot Last
One of the reasons SPD initially declined coalition talks is that AfD would then become the largest opposition party with parliamentary benefits.
The second reason is mistrust.
The third reason is support for SPD collapsed following the last coalition.
Speaking of the CDU/CSU/SPD talks, Eurointelligence commented: "This may be well the last political act of all three participants."
The more pressure there is to hold the middle together, the more splintering will result.
Even if Merkel forms a minority government, it will be fraught with endless political infighting.
This is the end of Merkel.