Agreement at the top but not the base: SPD’s regional vote suggests grand coalition is not secure

A handout picture released by German TV broadcaster WDR shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Martin Schulz (R), German Chancellor candidate and leader of the Social Democartic Party (SPD) shaking hands prior to their TV debate in Berlin, Germany, 03 September 2017. EPA-EFE/HERBY SACHS WDR / POOL

Agreement at the top but not the base: SPD’s regional vote suggests grand coalition is not secure


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A regional Social Democratic (SPD) party conference in Saxony-Anhalt on Saturday voted against forming a grand coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDU).

The decision came with a razor-thin margin of 52-to-51.

Among others, Saxony’s Minister of Labour Susi Möbbeck told the conference that the deal was “catastrophic” in terms of refugee policy. There is also a broader strategic issue: in September’s legislative elections, the SPD suffered its worst electoral result since 1933. For the membership of the Social Democratic Party — one of the oldest in Europe — the issue at hand is existential.

The regional sentiment in Saxony echoes the position of the national party youth (Juso) and sets the tone for a nation-wide encounter on January 21st in Bonn. Juso’s chairman, Kevin Kühnert, is campaigning across Germany to undermine the agreement between the party leadership and Angela Merkel. Kühnert’s criticism also focused on asylum policy and the call for an effective cap on asylum seekers, irrespectively of the merits of an individual application.  

The leadership of the party stands behind the negotiated framework agreement. The former SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel attended was in Saxony Anhalt on Saturday to make the case in favour of the 28-page framework agreement. The minister of foreign affairs argues that it would be unwise to leave the government, abandoning the possibility to defend the current level of state pension or the even split of social insurance contributions between employers’ and employees.

The regional vote on Saturday is a warning that SPD’s leadership in Berlin may not be able to convince the party to go along with a preliminary agreement.

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