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Germany’s rejuvenated SPD leads way in talks to form new coalition

Olaf Scholz best-placed to be chancellor, but CDU’s Armin Laschet is refusing to give in

The last time Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) won an election, Carmen Wegge was two days short of her 13th birthday. On Sunday, two days after her 32nd birthday, the lawyer and performance poet won a seat for the party in Bavaria. She was one of 206 jubilant SPD parliamentarians who gathered on Tuesday in Berlin’s Bundestag chamber.

Sunday’s election victory adds 53 seats to the SPD parliamentary party, up a third, and at its first meeting on Tuesday – in the main chamber, to ensure social distancing – the centre-left party seemed unusually young, fresh and diverse.

In total, half the party’s MPs are new, 42 per cent are women and a third are under 40. Wegge is one of this new generation of politicians helping Olaf Scholz and Germany’s oldest party on the path back to power.

“The mood is really good, I’d call it relaxed and happy all at once, and concentrated,” says Wegge. “But we’ve not reached our goal yet. Now it’s all about getting a Social Democratic chancellor for Germany.”


Two days after finishing in first place, up five points on 25.7 per cent, the SPD hit the political accelerator on Tuesday, sending out invitations for exploratory talks to its preferred coalition partners: the Greens and liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

SPD parliamentary party leader Ralf Mützenich told his new Bundestag brood he wanted to avoid the “theatrics” of 2017 when, after a month of talking, the FDP walked out on chancellor Angela Merkel. It was nearly six months – 171 days – after the election before she formed a new government: a third grand coalition with the SPD.

Exploratory talks

It seems the FDP and Greens got the message. The two smaller parties will meet for exploratory talks on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with the “red” SPD about a so-called “traffic light” coalition.

“Of course we will talk to all parties,” said Anton Hofreiter, Bundestag co-leader for the Greens. “But to be honest it is likely that it will come to a traffic light [coalition].”

By comparison dark storm clouds gathered as the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) meet to discuss their nine-point slide in support.

Their worst election performance in history has cost the centre-right CDU/CSU some 50 seats in the new Bundestag – and the MPs gathering yesterday were in a mutinous mood.

“In my view the ball is obviously with the SPD – they finished in first place, not the CDU/CSU,” says Tilman Kuban, head of the CDU youth wing and MP from Hanover. “We lost the election, period.”

CDU leader Armin Laschet pushed back against backbencher pressure and has refused to concede – or to congratulate Scholz and the SPD on its victory. Instead he is demanding talks, too, with Greens and FDP.

“The question is whether you lead talks on 24 per cent from a position of weakness and, from 25 per cent, from a position of strength,” he said.

Blame game

Ahead of Tuesday’s closed-door meeting, Bavarian CSU leader Markus Söder put himself on a collision course with Laschet, announcing that “Olaf Scholz clearly has the best chances to be chancellor at present”. Finishing the election as runner-up was, Söder added, “something that has to be accepted, emotionally”.

As the CDU/CSU played the blame game, with some demanding Laschet stand down as leader after just nine months, SPD debutantes posed for selfies with Scholz and swapped campaign war stories with old party veterans. What went so right?

“This time everything fit,” says Wegge. “We had a competent candidate [for chancellor].” Wegge, deputy leader of local SPD youth wing and its self-described “left-wing conscience”, says voters have responded to the party’s social justice campaign: to boost low wages, stabilise pensions, address the housing crisis and tackle climate change.

“We’re on a good path now,” she says, “and everything else will become clear in the next days, weeks and months.”