SPD Pushes “Go”: But The Vote Of The Party Brass Is Much Too Close For Comfort
January 22, 2018
By FTI Consulting
In an extraordinary party convention, Germany´s Social Democrats (SPD) paved the way for entering formal coalition talks with Angela Merkel Christian Democrats (CDU). The aim is to establish a repeat of the so called Grand Coalition which governed the country during the term 2013 – 2017.
Social Democrats effectively torn by prospect of governing
The SPD vote was surprisingly narrow – just over 56 per cent of the 600 delegates representing the party brass voted in favour of the leadership’s motion, with 44 per cent against. Clearly, the party is torn.
Party leader Schulz: diminished authority
The outcome further diminishes the authority of party leader Martin Schulz who failed to obtain a more substantial vote. Thus, the political game went on: Just as the party convention came to a conclusion, senior SPD sources were demanding anonymously that Schulz does not join the new German government in order to protect his credibility.
Weak leader, but strong negotiating position
Sensing trouble ahead, the party leadership had made a number of concessions ahead of the vote in order to appease delegates. These concessions include further regulation to make it harder to hire temporary staff, changes in the health system aimed at curbing what the SPD calls a “Two class” system between private and public health insurance, and measures to unite children of refugees with their parents if they didn’t make it to Germany together.
These issues will be introduced in the upcoming talks, and early indications from the CDU side seem to point to a readiness to abide. This takes into account that the vote strengthens the SPD´s hand in the coalition talks to come, as negotiators can point to the narrow vote in order to obtain further concessions form the CDU.
Will the spotlight turn on Merkel?
For Chancellor Angela Merkel, the SPD vote puts her in an uncomfortable position, too, as the upcoming talks with SPD will be difficult and can, at all times, be torpedoed by critical public statements from the side lines as the talks go on. This is an invitation to sabotage, and both Merkel and Schulz will feel the heat of the beginning of a generational struggle for leadership.
The challenges ahead
Party leaders of both sides will meet quickly to get serious coalition talks on track. The timeline is tight, and the aim is to conclude negotiations by Mid-March. Then, the next hurdle needs to be overcome: The SPD will ask its full membership of 440,000 to vote on the final agreement. This vote will finally clear the way for the new government to be sworn in just before Easter. And even if this best-case scenario were to become reality, it will have taken a full six months after the September elections before the new German government is in place. That’s six months during which the Chancellor is not fully in control of events. Alas: time’s not always a healer, it seems.
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.