Germany’s SPD lines up coalition talks as CDU tensions grow

CDU leader Armin Laschet plays for time as furious party members question leadership

Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) will hold its first exploratory talks with the Green Party and Free Democratic Party (FDP) on Sunday, a week after it won the federal election.

Resisting SPD pressure for a swift deal, however, the FDP will hold its first official talks a day earlier with its preferred coalition partner, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

An SPD-led alliance – the “traffic light” option – is seen as the most likely outcome after the party finished first with 25.8 per cent of the vote. But CDU and FDP officials say their greater policy overlap makes it prudent to explore the alternative Jamaica option – a reference to the black, yellow and green of that country’s flag.

On Tuesday evening, furious CDU parliamentarians confronted their leader, Armin Laschet, at their first post-election meeting, accusing him of “dragging down like lead” their campaigns.


A new poll on Wednesday found two-thirds of Germans think Mr Laschet should stand down, after just nine months as CDU leader, but the centre-right leader has bought himself time in Berlin.

In tough negotiations with backbenchers and his Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), Mr Laschet and his team secured the re-election of the outgoing parliamentary party leader, Ralf Brinkhaus.

If the CDU enters opposition, this will be the party’s most powerful position as leader of the opposition in the Bundestag.

With other, more popular CDU figures circling that job, the successful push to return Mr Brinkhaus gives Mr Laschet time to see out coalition talks before making his next move.

Mr Brinkhaus insisted on Tuesday evening that he had not been re-elected to keep the seat warm for Mr Laschet. “I don’t feel that way ... Armin Laschet is certainly not going to run for parliamentary party leader if we go into opposition,” said Mr Brinkhaus on German television.

Borrowed time

Backbencher CDU parliamentarians agreed, making clear on Tuesday that, unless he can perform a miracle and secure a fifth term in office, Mr Laschet is living on borrowed time.

Several backbenchers suggested it was hypocritical of Mr Laschet to have run on a platform of “taking responsibility for Germany” while evading responsibility for Sunday’s election rout.

“We’re living in two worlds here. One side is talking about a mandate for office, while the rank-and-file are talking of the worst result in history,” said Gitta Connemann, MP in the northwestern Emsland region. “Who is accepting responsibility – and when?”

Mr Laschet’s determination to push ahead with coalition talks, despite losing nearly nine points’ support to finish on 24.1 per cent of the vote, has prompted fury among senior party figures, too. Many told him they would prefer to see the party regroup in opposition – ideally without him.

“The situation is dramatic in my view, a CDU that polls less than 25 per cent has clear need for reform,” said Daniel Günther, state premier in Schleswig-Holstein. “People stayed away from us in droves and said that, ‘because of Armin Laschet I’m not voting CDU’.”

Green lean

Green Party lead candidate Annalena Baerbock gave her strongest signal yet that she favoured an SPD-lead coalition, with echoes of their seven-year alliance with the party until 2002.

“The SPD is the election winner after this federal election, and therefore it is crucial for us to hold these talks now, but we are talking to all parties,” she added.

On Tuesday evening she and co-leader Robert Habeck had what she called a “good discussion” with two leaders from the FDP, their would-be third partner. A selfie of the four went viral early on Wednesday morning, though eagle-eyed Instagram users noted they had each applied their own filter to the photograph. “If they can’t agree on an Instagram filter,” one user asked, “what chance is there for a coalition?”

The two parties are at odds on key political policy issues. The FDP opposes Green plans for a wealth tax and hikes for top earners; it also opposes Green policy for large government involvement – and public money – for measures to counter climate change.

FDP general secretary Volker Wissing confirmed that an alliance with the CDU “of course remains our preference”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin