German coalition vows to see out term as SPD leader quits

Summer of uncertainty looms as Berlin’s junior coalition partner debates future

Andrea Nahles, who suddenly resigned as leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Andrea Nahles, who suddenly resigned as leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

 

Germany’s grand coalition parties stepped back from the brink on Monday, vowing to serve out their full term to 2021 after the sudden resignation of Social Democrat (SPD) leader Andrea Nahles.

While SPD grandees in Berlin began the search for a new leader, some regional figures questioned whether Germany’s oldest party can survive another two years in power. Polling as low as 12 per cent, one noted on Monday that there “isn’t far left to fall”.

Ms Nahles ended her political career after 30 years on Sunday, complaining of a lack of party support and bruising encounters with internal rivals.

Already the search for her successor – the SPD’s seventh leader in 10 years – is proving tricky. The list of names is shrinking by the hour, and the left-wing Die Tageszeitung daily turned its Monday front page into a satirical help-wanted ad, headlined: “Shit job available.”

Olaf Scholz, the SPD federal finance minister and most senior party figure next to Ms Nahles, was the first to insist he was not interested in the job. Also taking himself out of the race: Stephan Weil, state premier of Lower Saxony.

A provisional SPD leadership trio took charge on Monday afternoon: Manuela Schwesig and Malu Dreyer, the state premiers of the states of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania and Rhineland-Palatinate respectively, along with SPD regional figure Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel.

Ms Dreyer said the SPD would deliver stability and continuity in power.

“After a member vote we decided to enter the grand coalition and we are true to our word,” she said. However, the trio’s first task as interim leaders was to rule themselves out of the race for the top job.

With a rapidly shrinking cast of potential future leaders, it fell to SPD foreign minister Heiko Maas to keep his hat near – if not in – the ring by suggesting the party needs a leadership duo.

Summer of uncertainty

Though Andrea Nahles was not a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet, a summer of uncertainty looms as Berlin’s junior coalition partner debates whether its future lies in or out of power.

Senior Berlin SPD figures are determined to run out this term, knowing an election would cost the jobs of many MPs and their staff. Others insist the party has to brave a snap election and a disastrous result to begin redefining its centre-left political profile.

While the SPD seeks a new leader for their party, Dr Merkel is now no longer leader of hers after handing over the CDU reins in December to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

She insisted on Monday, with an eye on her junior coalition partner: “Germany has to remain able to act.”

If the SPD cannot recover, the CDU leader faces a series of bad options. A minority government is unprecedented and is considered unlikely. Replacing her junior coalition partner midterm with two smaller ones is unlikely given the Green Party is soaring high above its last election result.

On Monday Green co-leader Annalena Baerbock called for a snap election, saying: “We’re not the spare wheel that kicks in when needed.”