German political deadlock ends with fourth term for Merkel

Postal vote of centre-left SPD party sees backing for another grand coalition in Berlin

SPD treasurer Dietmar Nietan and temporary party leader Olaf Scholz announcing at  party headquarters in Berlin that  members had voted for a new coalition.  Photograph: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

SPD treasurer Dietmar Nietan and temporary party leader Olaf Scholz announcing at party headquarters in Berlin that members had voted for a new coalition. Photograph: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

 

Europe breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday as Germany’s five-month political deadlock ended with a fourth term for Angela Merkel.

After heated debate and several false starts, a closely-watched postal vote of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) ended in two-thirds’ backing for another grand coalition in Berlin.

The result opens the door to another SPD alliance with Dr Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and her Bavarian CSU allies, and their third grand coalition since 2005.

“We now have clarity,” said Olaf Scholz, acting SPD leader. “This result gives us the strength we need to enter into government, get the country moving in the right direction, and start the process of renewal in the party.”

On Monday, President Frank Walter Steinmeier will nominate Dr Merkel as Germany’s next federal chancellor, to be voted on in the Bundestag parliament on March 14th. A new federal government is likely to be in place before Easter.

“It’s good for our country that this phase of insecurity has passed and that three parties are prepared to accept government responsibility,” said Mr Steinmeier, a long-time SPD politician who pressed his party to return to power despite a disastrous election result last September.

Postal ballots

Almost 450,000 SPD members were entitled to vote on the coalition deal struck with the CDU/CSU. Of 362,933 valid postal ballots, some 239,604 members backed entering the grand coalition – 66 per cent support – while 123,329 opposed.

The result will bring relief to Berlin’s EU partners, ending post-war Germany’s longest-ever interregnum which left the continent in a holding pattern since last summer.

On Sunday Dr Merkel congratulated the SPD on its “clear vote”, and said she looked forward to a “continued co-operation for the good of our country”.

Her political future hung on the whim of the SPD vote after her first attempt to form an coalition – with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens – failed last year.

SPD left-wingers and its vocal youth wing campaigned for a return to the opposition benches, as was promised on election night last September. However, SPD leaders exploited their leverage as Dr Merkel’s last alternative to fresh elections to secure an expansionist programme for government as well as the key finance, foreign and labour ministries.

Investment

“We have a good economic situation...we need investment, and we have the means for this, which we have to use sensibly,” said Andrea Nahles, the SPD Bundestag leader on Sunday evening.

French president Emmanuel Macron, waiting since September for a response from Berlin on his euro zone reform proposals, called Sunday’s vote “good news for Europe”.