Social Democrats path way for re-entering Grand Coalition with Merkel
A massive tide has swept back and forth in German politics this week. As it recedes, it appears possible that it´s all going to be back to square one in the end. The surprise decision of the Free Democrats of the FDP to walk away from talks with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic CDU and the Green party to form a new government had created a sense of crisis unprecedented for decades. This was even heightened when, the next day, the Social Democratic leadership of the SPD categorically reiterated that they would not be available as Angela Merkel’s junior partner in yet another grand coalition, thus barring the door for the Chancellor to seek the only way out of the impasse.
Don´t mess with the President
But the SPD’s positioning proved not to be sustainable in the days to follow. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, himself a Social Democrat, acted as a stern guardian of the constitution. He stepped in to tell all parties concerned including his own that he was determined to put as many obstacles as possible in their way to prevent new elections. His argument: parties are not supposed to send voters back to the ballot box until the results are to their liking, but have to show respect to the voters’ decision even if it was painful to them. He also pointed out that the general elections of September 24 left the parties with two clear options that they are obliged to deal with: one was the alliance of CDU, FDP and Greens which had meanwhile collapsed, and the other one was a repeat of the Grand Coalition.
In the days to follow, it dawned on the SPD leadership that their head of state might in fact be right. Add to that the fact that the newly assembled members of SPD faction in Bundestag turned out to be not at all keen for new elections, and you had just the right mix of arguments for the SPD leadership to reconsider.
A change of hearts at night
This they did, and after eight hours of nocturnal deliberations, they made clear they weren’t any longer ruling out talks with Angela Merkel’s CDU to form a new government, which would practically be the old one. But the Social Democrats will need time now, as this turnaround will have to be carefully explained to voters and members, and some manoeuvring is necessary to help party leader Martin Schulz save his face in the operation: At the party convention in two weeks’ time the SPD members will demand a good explanation for the confusion caused by the top brass.
Appealing prospects for SPD – despite their losses
But if all goes well, the SPD ministers sitting at Angela Merkel’s cabinet table will just remain seated, and their footprint on the Chancellor’s policies might be even bigger than before: The Social Democrats may well be in a position to more or less dictate the terms under which they are ready to partner up with Merkel again. Given that they suffered their worst result ever in September’s general election, with barely 20 per cent share of the vote, this could be quite an attractive prospect.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees.
With over 25 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, and consulting, Mr. Kothé advises companies seeking relevant impact with politics and politicians. He founded FTI Consulting’s public affairs practice in Berlin in 2010. Previously, he served as spokesperson for German Federal President Horst Köhler. He also headed the communications and media team of the German liberal party, FDP. Starting his career in journalism at the BBC’s World Service in London, Mr. Kothé has also worked as a senior parliamentary correspondent for Germany’s news channel n-tv.