SPD members poised to back grand coalition deal in Germany

Result of party members’ poll due at lunchtime on Saturday

A pedestrian walks past an advertisement in Berlin reading ‘Member Vote’ to promote the voting by Social Democratic Party members on whether to enter a coalition with  Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The results of the ballot will be known on Saturday. Photograph:  Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

A pedestrian walks past an advertisement in Berlin reading ‘Member Vote’ to promote the voting by Social Democratic Party members on whether to enter a coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The results of the ballot will be known on Saturday. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Thu, Dec 12, 2013, 16:46

Germany ends three months in political limbo on Saturday when the Social Democratic Party (SPD) decides whether to enter a second grand coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Some 470,000 SPD members have until midnight on Thursday to post their ballot papers to Leipzig. They will be collated and transported tonight by road to a high-security count centre in central Berlin.

Last figures from Tuesday evening showed that 300,000 votes had already arrived back: a 63 per cent turnout rate, well above the quorum of 20 per cent of voters. About 10 per cent of those votes were reportedly spoiled, however, by members who forgot to return an accompanying form confirming they had only voted once.

On Saturday morning some 400 party volunteers begin counting the holographed ballot papers, with notaries on hand to ensure the result - expected, around lunchtime - is not open to subsequent legal challenge. The result is expected to be a yes to entering coalition.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel called the unprecedented member vote - at a cost of €1.6 million - to avoid a repeat of the last Merkel cohabitation that ended in 2009 in recriminations and the 150 year-old party’s worst-ever election result.

During coalition talks with the CDU, the looming vote also served as useful leverage for Mr Gabriel and his negotiators.

“The voting process is not completed but one can see already that members realise how much we secured (in talks) that is of importance to people,” posted Mr Gabriel to his Facebook page on Thursday.

For the last month he has held town hall meetings around the country to convince members to back a programme for government that promises to deliver on SPD campaign promises of €8.50 minimum wage and a moratorium on welfare cuts.

But many grassroots members were disappointed at the party’s failure to secure double citizenship rights for all German residents. Left-wing groups inside the SPD have attacked the programme for failing to impose higher taxes on top earners and companies. The SPD’S 70,000-strong youth wing rejected outright the alliance with the CDU, dubbing the SPD’s political rival a hotbed of anti-Semites.

If all goes to plan, the new cabinet is likely to be sworn in on Tuesday, allowing Dr Merkel deliver her first third-term speech to the Bundestag on Wednesday before heading on Thursday to Brussels for the last EU summit of the year.

The CDU and its CSU Bavarian allies are likely to claim 14 posts with six for the SPD, but all sides have kept confidential their list of cabinet appointees.

Mr Gabriel is likely to be appointed vice-chancellor but speculation abounds over which cabinet portfolio - if any - he will claim as his own. It is seen as very likely that Dr Merkel will retain the crucial finance portfolio for her confidante Wolfgang Schäuble.

Last Monday, CDU delegates at a party conference in Berlin approved the coalition agreement with just two abstentions.

Thanking delegates for their show of support, party leader Angela Merkel spoke aloud what many around Europe have been thinking for weeks: “It’s about time we got back to work.”