Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has ended a two-decade political taboo and embraced the idea of entering a coalition with the hard-left Linke (Left Party).
Six weeks into talks with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the shift is a strategic move by the SPD to transform Germany's to-date theoretical left-wing Bundestag majority into a new political reality.
Though the SPD is still likely enter a second grand coalition with Dr Angela Merkel’s CDU in the coming weeks, it is upping the ante in coalition talks.
The policy shift, to be put to members at tomorrow's party conference, gives the SPD the option of bringing down a Merkel-led grand coalition ahead of time to form a three-way coalition with the Greens and Linke.
Since German unification the SPD has refused to consider such an alliance with the successor to East Germany's SED, itself formed in 1946 after the eastern SPD was forced into merging with the Communist Party.
The SPD kept its distance from the SED’s successor in a united Bundestag, the PDS, because its leaders refused to condemn East German injustices, in particular decades of division and the state’s shoot-to-kill policy at the Berlin Wall.
A further stumbling block came a decade ago when SPD veterans, including former leader Oskar Lafontaine, defected and joined forces with the PDS to create Linke.
The new party thrived, attracting thousands of SPD supporters disillusioned with Schröder-era economic and social reforms, and Mr Lafontaine was viewed as a traitor by his old comrades.
But he has since retired, as have many old eastern politicians. A new generation of pragmatic Left leaders have distanced themselves from East German wrongs, moderated some of their party’s political demands and, at the last election, pressed the SPD to rethink its position.
Yesterday, the SPD did just that. General secretary Andrea Nahles said her party would "in future rule out no coalitions, except with far-right parties", once it promised a "stable and dependable parliamentary majority" and "a responsible European and foreign policy".
Though the Left Party has become more pragmatic on social issues, it continues to demand Germany cease arms exports, end all foreign military operations and withdraw from Nato.
Leading SPD left-wingers welcomed the move yesterday, as did Gregor Gysi, a Left Party veteran and its Bundestag leader.
“As usual with the SPD,” he said, “this comes almost too late.”