SPD leader to lobby members for renewed Merkel alliance
Neither the SPD nor the CDU want to go back to voters for fear the AfD’s rise will accelerate
Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s social democrat SPD party. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images
Exactly 73 days after Martin Schulz promised to never join a government under Angela Merkel, the SPD leader will on Thursday ask sceptical rank-and-file members to consider just that.
With Berlin gripped by a post-election stalemate, pressure is growing on Germany’s centre-left party to enter a third grand coalition with Dr Merkel.
At an SPD federal party conference in Berlin, Mr Schulz (61) will ask party delegates for a mandate to open talks with Dr Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Last September the SPD scored a disastrous 20.5 per cent and polls suggest about two-thirds of party members oppose another grand coalition, favouring a period of political renewal in opposition.
In a bid to bring round doubters, SPD leaders have drafted a four-page motion of political priorities: abolition of Germany’s two-tier health system; pension reform to tackle old-age poverty; tougher climate protection goals; and an end to a ban on some refugees bringing family members to Germany.
If delegates still refuse to back grand coalition talks, it raises another option: a minority Merkel administration with the Greens, supported from the opposition benches by the SPD.
Neither the SPD nor the CDU are anxious to go back to voters, a move they fear would only benefit the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
Thursday’s SPD conference will be a test of support for Mr Schulz. After returning from Brussels last March, where he served as European Parliament president, Mr Schulz was crowned leader with a euphoric 100 per cent support. But a series of regional election disasters, and September’s federal poll humiliation, has left dents in his popularity and authority.
Ahead of today’s crunch vote, Mr Schulz revealed he had been lobbied by political allies across Europe to enter a third grand coalition, including by French president Emmanuel Macron.
The SPD leader said he was anxious to help realise Mr Macron’s euro reform agenda.
“The promise of state protection, that social democracy once won for workers, can now only be renewed through European social democracy and not in French or German solo runs,” said Mr Schulz to the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras wrote to Mr Schulz to say he was “sure you will make the right choice”.
“Don’t forget that a true left and progressive position does not lie in keeping one’s own identity as pure as possible,” wrote the Greek leader.
On Wednesday Mr Schulz said the SPD had made its mark while in office, in particular pushing through a minimum wage against CDU opposition.
But SPD grand coalition opponents – in particular its conservative and youth wings – insist the SPD gets no credit for hard-won successes while cohabiting with Dr Merkel.
Thursday’s conference is gearing up to be a passionate debate over whether Germany’s SPD dilemma is home-made or part of a pan-European crisis of social democracy.
Predicting an emotional conference, Hamburg mayor and SPD leading light Olaf Scholz told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily: “I would not reckon with one kind of government or another before the spring.”