SPD leader Scholz calls for coalition talks after German election win

Angela Merkel’s CDU suffers slump in support, leaving centre-rivals with ‘visible mandate’ to govern

Carsten Brzeski, chief European economist at ING, discusses the challenges SPD candidate Chancellor Olaf Scholz will face as coalition talks get underway after the tight election win for his party. Video: Reuters/CNBC/NYT

 

German chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz has called for talks between his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Green Party and liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) to form a progressive coalition in Berlin.

Sunday’s general election saw his SPD finish up five points on 25.7 per cent of the vote while its main rival, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), slumped nearly nine points to 24.1 per cent.

Mr Scholz described gains for his SPD and the two smaller parties – 14.8 per cent for the Greens and 11.5 per cent for the FDP – as a “visible mandate” from voters to govern in Berlin.

“The CDU/CSU didn’t just lose considerable support, but got the message from citizens that they should not be in government but in opposition,” he told journalists at SPD headquarters.

A closed-door meeting of leading CDU/CSU officials saw heated disagreement over who was to blame for the alliance’s worst result in its history – and the road ahead after four terms in office.

CDU leader Armin Laschet faces his toughest post-election test on Tuesday morning at a final meeting of the outgoing CDU/CSU parliamentary party, including 94 MPs who have lost their seats after his lacklustre campaign.

CDU leader since January, Mr Laschet – state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia – has had little time to earn political clout in the corridors of the Bundestag, and on Monday struggled to get his party’s steering committee behind his post-election strategy.

Amid pressure from younger members, Mr Laschet promised “renewal” of the party’s front bench but he declined to stand aside and has vowed to conduct exploratory talks with the Greens and FDP for a so-called “Jamaica” coalition, a reference to the colours of that country’s flag.

“No one has a clear claim to govern,” insisted Mr Laschet, playing down the 1.6 percentage point gap to the SPD.

Painful night

Among the defeats suffered by the CDU during a painful election night was the loss to the SPD of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel’s seat, which she had secured eight times in succession since 1990.

While her successor as CDU leader talked up Sunday’s result, Mr Laschet came under attack from CSU officials in Munich as the “wrong candidate with the wrong campaign”.

CSU leader Markus Söder, who had hoped to lead the CDU/CSU campaign, insisted his centre-right bloc had “no automatic entitlement to form a government” after Sunday’s result – but did have the right to make a political offer to others.

“It was a defeat, when you lose so many votes it’s not possible to paint it differently,” he said.

With invitations arriving from all sides, Green Party leaders indicated they shared Mr Scholz’s preference for a so-called “traffic light” coalition of SPD-Green-FDP.

“The last hours have shown the CDU/CSU is in the process of saying farewell to government participation, so there’s a certain logic to holdinf talks with the SPD and FDP,” said Robert Habeck, Green co-leader. “But everything is possible and we are taking this very seriously.”

FDP leader Christian Lindner was less enthusiastic about the so-called “traffic light” option, given SPD/Green proposals for tax hikes and more flexibility on budget deficits – policies at odds with those of his party and its core voter base.

“There are large differences between Greens and FDP,” he said, before calling for unofficial talks between the two parties to see if they could find common ground as a “progressive centre” for any new coalition.

Left slump

As parties began post-mortems of their results, nowhere was the election hangover so great as with the far-left Linke, or Left party. It failed to clear the five per cent hurdle necessary for a parliamentary party but will still have 39 MPs in parliament thanks to rules for parties who secure a large number of directly-elected parliamentarians.

Linke leaders said on Monday their election slump, which saw the party drop 4.3 points to 4.9 per cent, was largely the result of the SPD’s rediscovery of its traditional social justice platform and its failure to push issues relevant to its traditional eastern voter base.

In these regions it has been replaced as the local protest party by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).