Some German Social Democrats question rejection of grand coalition

Europe’s most prosperous country had a rude awakening on Monday when talks between the three parties trying form the next government fell apart after five weeks of wrangling. Two months after her Christian Democrats suffered a disappointing election result, the German chancellor—known for her negotiation skills—failed to broker an agreement between her party, the Christian Social Union, the Free Democrats and the Greens.
From being lauded as the “eternal” chancellor and leader of the free world, Merkel is now locked in a battle to retain her power as her fourth term is no longer assured. This could spell bad news not only for Germany, stuck for months with a weakened, caretaker chancellor, but also for the stability of the European Union. Merkel has been a kingpin in all the bloc’s decisions and a bastion of steadiness in a world roiled by Brexit, Donald Trump, and the rise of populist parties across Europe.

Germans want another election

Germany’s right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) crowed about the breakdown of the talks, claimed they were responsible for it, and welcomed the possibility of new elections. Beatrix von Storch, deputy federal chair of the AfD tweeted that: “The coalition is broken, Merkel is broken. This is a victory for the AfD.” Co-leader of the AfD Alice Weidel posted that Merkel should suffer the consequences of the failed talks and step down.
But Merkel says she’s not going anywhere, telling broadcaster ARD that she’s not interested in ruling in a minority government and that she was “certain that new elections are the better way.”
A Statista poll on Monday found that the majority of Germans would also rather go back to the polls than have a minority government.
Leading politicians are still trying to avoid this drastic course of action. German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier called it “an unprecedented situation in the history of the Federal Republic” and urged the parties to try again to see if they can make a coalition government work. Head of the chancellery Peter Altmaier said the parties would now have three weeks to attempt to rescue the talks.
If the parties still can’t work it out, Steinmeier will have to call early elections—the earliest they could happen is mid-to-end February next year. That’s what the AfD wants as they could try to capitalize on the political chaos. The party won 13% of the vote in September’s general election, making it the first far-right party in the Bundestag since World War 2.
Carsten Nickel at Teneo Intelligence said that it’s not unreasonable to assume that the only party to gain from a snap election is the AfD.
“Party leaders are trying to interpret this outcome in a way that’s favourable to their parties and whoever succeeds or is not successful in this game will have a lot of influence on the ultimate outcome,” Nickel told Quartz. “I think overall it’s fair to say that there’s a risk that such a failure at the political center ultimately benefits the fringes.”

Who’s to blame?

Indeed, the blame game began immediately after Free Democrat’s leader Christian Lindner stormed out of the talks on Sunday night, saying he’d rather not govern at all than “govern badly.” The other parties have accused him of showmanship, selfishness, and using the talks as a platform to grab the populist vote.
Carsten Brezski, Chief Economist at ING-DIBA told Quartz that a snap election “could be rather negative for the AfD as Germans will vote for clarity and stability. New elections could strengthen CDU and SPD—the political center.”
However, he believes that while the repercussions of a caretaker government won’t necessarily damage the robust German economy, Europe “has lost another illusion: Germany is no longer the role model of political stability.”
One person who would be frustrated by a snap German election is French president Emmanuel Macron. If Germany needs to hunker down for months of political turmoil, Merkel won’t have time to co-parent his European reforms or push for deeper EU integration.
It could also spell bad news for UK prime minister Theresa May and Brexit negotiations too, as, according to Pepijn Bergsen at the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Germany will be even less inclined to deviate from a formal, rules-based approach, increasing the pressure on the UK to comply with the demands from the EU on, for instance, the financial settlement.”
 A group of Social Democrat (SPD) deputies is questioning their party’s rejection of a renewed ‘grand coalition’ with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives to resolve Germany’s worst political crisis of modern times, according to Bild newspaper.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz as they attend a meeting of the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
SPD leader Martin Schulz wants the party to go into opposition after September polls that brought support to its lowest level since foundation of the modern Federal Republic in 1949. The uncertainty has raised concern across Europe at a time when the EU faces complex political and economic problems.
But consensus within the party appears to be crumbling with roughly a fifth of 153 SPD lawmakers expressing doubts about the decision at a meeting of the parliamentary group, the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported.
Merkel’s bid to forge a three-way alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats and the environmental Greens collapsed on Sunday, raising the prospect of new elections or a minority government if the SPD refuses to govern with the conservatives.
SPD lawmaker Johannes Kahrs, spokesman for the Seeheimer Circle, a conservative wing in the party, urged Schulz to keep an open mind when he meets on Thursday with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to discuss a way forward.
Kahrs told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that the collapse of the three-way coalition talks had created “a new situation”.
“We cannot just tell the German president, ‘Sorry, that’s it,'” he said.
Bild said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who handed leadership of the SPD to Schulz and became foreign minister earlier this year, also favours a resumed tie-up with conservatives.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a meeting of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group at the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
Gabriel declined to comment on the issue during an event with the Qatari foreign minister on Tuesday.

NEW ELECTIONS?

Merkel has said she would prefer new elections to an unstable minority government. Until a government is agreed, she continues as acting chancellor and previous ministers remain in post, while the newly-elected parliament also proceeds with business.
Stephan Weil, the SPD premier of Lower Saxony who just completed a coalition agreement with conservatives in his state, has said a new election could leave few options other than a grand coalition anyway, the Sueddeutsche newspaper reported.
But Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel, deputy leader of the SPD, told broadcaster ZDF that his party wanted to avoid another grand coalition that could strengthen support for the far right, as has happened in Austria.
“At the moment we don’t see a basis for a grand coalition,” he said, adding that conservatives had show little appetite for changing their positions on key issues. “In the end it’s all about maintaining power for them,” he added.
Dieter Kempf, head of the DIHK industry group, urged politicians to accelerate efforts to form a new government, warning that prolonged uncertainty would harm companies.
Joe Kaeser, chief executive of Siemens (SIEGn.DE), told Die Welt newspaper that he hoped new elections could be avoided since the results would likely be little changed from Sept. 24.
A new poll released Wednesday showed that half of Germans favour a new election, while a fifth back formation of a minority government. Only 18 percent would support a renewal of the SPD-conservative coalition that ruled the past four years.
Some German Social Democrats question rejection of grand coalition Some German Social Democrats question rejection of grand coalition Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 03:42:00 Rating: 5