BERLIN: Germany’s Social Democrats could end up deciding if the country faces snap elections, the leader of Angela Merkel’s party said on Monday, after her junior coalition partner sank into chaos over the resignation of its leader.
In a surprise announcement that rattled Berlin, Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Andrea Nahles said on Sunday she was quitting her party’s top jobs following an European election drubbing late last month.
Merkel and other heavyweights in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have sought to calm nerves, saying they stood by the coalition.
But CDU chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer conceded on Monday that whether Germany goes to the polls before the end of the electoral term in 2021 would depend on the SPD’s next move.
“We are ready to keep this coalition going. How the SPD behaves is its decision,” she told journalists following crisis talks within her centre-right party.
“There are good reasons to not end a government lightly, from the view of the situation in Germany but also the situation in Europe,” she said.
Given the international challenges, it would be “anything but productive if Germany were to go into a government crisis or a lengthy election campaign”.
The question of snap elections did not come up during Monday’s huddle in Berlin, she said, but added that “you can be certain that the CDU is prepared for whatever comes or does not come”.
The leadership crisis at the SPD could not have come at a worse time for the CDU, which was itself struggling to halt a haemorrhage of voters as the younger generation shuns it in droves for the Greens.
The SPD meanwhile has been scrambling to find a new leader to replace Nahles, 48.
But voices are growing louder within both the SPD and the CDU for the parties to part ways.
Harald Christ of the SPD’s business leaders forum said “Nahles stands for the existence of the GroKo — whose stability is now in question.”
“In my view what comes next is the end of the GroKo — everything else leads nowhere,” he told Bild daily, using the German shortform for grand coalition.
The deputy leader of the CDU-CSU parliamentary group, Carsten Linnemann, also warned in an interview with RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group that “if we are unable to progress with the SPD, then we should draw a line under this and ask ourselves if continuing with the GroKo still makes sense.”
But other voices pleaded for more time for the coalition to deliver on its pledges and win back disillusioned voters with policy gains.
A leading SPD centrist, Johannes Kahrs, pointed to a plan to push through a climate protection law before the next elections, saying that “the people can, should and will measure us by this”.
Crisis to crisis
The alliance between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SPD was fragile from the start.
Wounded by an election rout in 2017, the SPD had initially sought to go into opposition, but was reluctantly coaxed into renewing a partnership with Merkel.
Many within the party however remained wary of continuing to govern in Merkel’s shadow, and the coalition has lurched from crisis to crisis.
The SPD, Germany’s oldest party, had initially planned to re-examine the alliance in the autumn — half-way through the four-year mandate.
But with a free-fall in its ratings unending, the SPD’s timetable may yet be accelerated.
After last Sunday’s European election, the SPD has been staring at the prospect of another debacle in three upcoming state polls in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thueringia, where the far-right AfD is poised to make significant gains.
With its anti-immigration campaign, the AfD in 2017 drew voters angry with Merkel’s decision to let in more than a million asylum seekers into Germany.
But nationwide the Greens may have become the biggest headache for the SPD.
While sharing the centre-left position on the political spectrum, the Greens are proving more attractive to young voters because of their environmentalist platform.
In a national survey released Saturday, the Greens came in top for the first time — enjoying slightly more support than Merkel’s CDU-CSU alliance. The environmentalist party had a lead over the SPD of around 15 percentage points.