- New SPD chief demands Merkel raise spending on climate, poor
- SPD due to vote on whether to continue with Merkel next week
Germany’s Social Democrats threw Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government into doubt by electing new leaders who have threatened to pull out of her coalition.
SPD members chose a pair of government critics, 67-year-old Norbert Walter-Borjans and lawmaker Saskia Esken, 58, to lead their party instead of a pro-Merkel ticket led by her finance minister, Olaf Scholz. The result may signal the party’s willingness to pull out of Germany’s grand coalition after years of paying the political costs for keeping the chancellor in office.
In his victory speech on Saturday evening, Walter-Borjans insisted he’d rather improve the coalition than pull it down. But he demanded Merkel review her cherished balanced-budget policy to ramp up investment on tackling climate change and on supporting poorer Germans as a condition of his support. Party delegates will vote next weekend on whether to stay in government when they gather for their annual convention.
“I never said we need to leave,” Walter-Borjans said after the results of the election were announced on Saturday evening. “We must improve the policies and perhaps loosen the black zero,” he said — a reference to Merkel’s budget pledge.
The result pushes 65-year-old Merkel a step closer to the exit after 14 years in power and leaves Europe’s biggest economy approaching a crossroads. Growth is faltering and populism is on the rise while Merkel has found herself overshadowed by the hyperactive French President Emmanuel Macron and caught between a hostile U.S. and an increasingly assertive China.
The decision signals a prolonged phase of political uncertainty in Germany that could hamper the European Union’s efforts to chart a path forward after Brexit and to wield its influence on the global stage.
Merkel is due to meet Macron, Donald Trump and other NATO leaders in London next week to confront Turkey over its offensive in Syria and after that she’s due to sit down with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Paris to talk about ending the violence in Ukraine.
Scholz is supposed to be in Brussels on Wednesday to broker a plan to complete the European banking union. In Berlin’s political establishment on Saturday questions were asked as to whether he will stay on as finance minister after losing out by 53% to 48%.
After a tumultuous year in which the SPD and Merkel’s Christian Democrats both faced intense power struggles and the economy flirted with recession, Germany’s political and business elites had hoped for a period of calm and continuity. Indeed, Merkel this week had made an unusual plea to see the alliance through to 2021, saying there was still much to be done.
But Walter-Borjans managed to tap the dissatisfaction of many Social Democrats who say their party has abandoned its working-class origins and should leave an alliance with conservatives.
Any breakup may become a drawn out process. In addition to a straight vote on leaving the coalition there will be proposals at the convention setting out conditions for staying, potentially paving the way for prolonged negotiations.
Merkel’s CDU said on Saturday that it still expects the SPD to honor last year’s coalition agreement. CDU Leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told delegates at its convention in Leipzig last week that she would refuse to renegotiate the coalition agreement that the two factions completed in March 2018.
The SPD leadership will also have to weigh the merits of facing a possible snap election when they’ve slipped to around 14% in the polls. The party is running neck-and-neck with the far-right Alternative for Germany which elected a new co-chair at its own convention in Braunschweig on Saturday.
Tino Chrupalla, a 44-year-old tradesman from the former communist East — where the anti-establishment party enjoys strong support — gives the group a fresh face. Chrupalla enjoys support of the party’s extreme-right wing but took a moderate tone, saying the party didn’t need “drastic language” to win conservative voters who feel abandoned by Merkel’s bloc