German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party told the new leadership of the Social Democrats that there will be no renegotiation of the terms of their alliance and they can quit the governing coalition if they can’t accept that.
The SPD on Saturday picked government critics Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, ahead of Dr Merkel's vice chancellor, Olaf Scholz, to lead the unior coalition partner.
The new leaders said they would demand policy changes if they were to maintain their support for the government, and their terms would be set out at a three-day SPD conference in Berlin starting on Friday.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Dr Merkel’s CDU party, said it would not open up a debate on the coalition deal signed in March last year. “We’re not a therapy service for the parties in government,” she said in an interview Monday with ZDF television.
“This new SPD leadership must decide whether they want to stay in this coalition or not,” Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer added. “We made a pledge to the voters. We want to govern on the basis of what was agreed. We are focusing on that and not on the mental state of any coalition partner.”
The rebellion against the SPD establishment pushes Dr Merkel a step closer to the exit after 14 years in power. It also throws up a potential conflict between the chancellor – keen to see out her final term – and Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is trying to exert her authority as party leader and may be less willing to compromise as she positions herself to succeed Dr Merkel.
The Social Democrat leadership crisis was triggered in June when chairwoman Andrea Nahles resigned after the party was crushed in the European Parliament elections. The succession contest reopened a party split between establishment figures and the left, which hoped to rebuild the SPD's credentials with its working-class base.
In comments after their victory on Saturday, Walter-Borjans said the party had no intention of abruptly leaving the coalition. The SPD was more likely to put forward a set of demands, such as abandoning Dr Merkel’s balanced-budget stance and raising Germany’s minimum wage. He also indicated that Mr Scholz would stay on as finance minister.
Johannes Kahrs, the SPD's parliamentary caucus budget spokesman and a party moderate, said on Monday he did not expect the government to collapse. If a general election was triggered, the party was at risk of finishing in fourth place behind the Greens and the far-right AfD.
"Both sides in the coalition know that we have to find some sensible results for this country," Mr Kahrs said in an interview with DLF radio.
“The voters have the right to expect that this nation is ruled sensibly until September 2021,” he added. “That there is some disagreement over content is completely acceptable.”
Any breakup would likely be a drawn out process. In addition to a straight vote on leaving the coalition, there will be proposals at the SPD convention setting out conditions for staying, potentially paving the way for prolonged negotiations with the CDU.
Malu Dreyer, who served as an interim SPD leader following the resignation of Ms Nahles, told ZDF Monday that the coalition agreement contained ample wiggle room to adapt to "changing circumstances" if necessary.
“We can’t behave as if chaos is breaking out here,” Ms Dreyer said. “It’s actually not.” – Bloomberg