Germany’s centre-left SPD convention voted in favour of negotiating terms for continuing the GroKo (short for “Große Koalition” or Grand Coalition) with Angela Merkel’s centre-right party, giving Germany hope for a government for the first time since the Federal Elections in late-September last year.
The SPD leader, Martin Schultz – along with the party’s leader in the Bundestag, Andrea Nahles – put the question of negotiating a continued coalition to the 641 delegates of the party convention, after a noisy protest against the possibility of further collaboration with Merkel’s CDU. By a narrow victory of 56.4%, the coalition talks will take place; with 362 delegates of the convention voting “yes” to talks, against 279 votes.
Merkel’s party is formed of an electoral alliance between two parties: the CSU (Christian Social Union) which only contests elections in the federal state of Bavaria, and the CDU (Christan Democratic Union), led by Merkel, which contests elections everywhere else in Germany. This alliance is often known as the CDU/CSU – or simply “the Union” – and operate, effectively, as one party.
The CSU has dominated Bavarian politics. It has commanded an overall majority in the Bavarian state government (with the exception of one parliamentary term) since 1966. The regional party is centre-right and socially-conservative, but with a happy encouragement of state intervention in the economy. It has been accused of bringing Merkel’s rather more socially-liberal CDU towards the right, while also criticising the CDU’s liberal economic policies. On paper, it looks as if the two parties could not work together – let alone form a lasting electoral alliance – but the Union is often thought of as one party, both in Germany and abroad.
The SPD is split, close to the middle, about these negotiations with the Union, with the youth of the party most against the idea of a further GroKo. Many think it is the very reason for the party’s poor results in September. It is expected that left-wing party and successor to the ruling party of the Communist East, die Linke, will be the destination for many of those now disillusioned by the SPD’s eagerness for power at any price. Many believe that the SPD will capitulate on the main negotiation themes – refugees, health, and jobs – due to the rise of the far-right AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) who gained 94 seats in September, making them the third party and, therefore, main opposition to a Grand Coalition government.
Neither of the two main parties particularly want to be in coalition with the other again, and are often described as having limped into this situation reluctantly. However, neither party wants a fresh round of elections. Despite September being the SPD’s worst electoral performance in its history, Germany’s oldest party could only benefit in the vote-share and number of seats, were they to break off the idea of talks. This, however, would lead them, and Germany, into the position of a Grand Coalition once again, while running the risk of the Union also strengthening their negotiating position. Both parties have diluted their core ideologies due to the last two Grand Coalitions (2005-09, and 2013-17) in order to see common ground, and if new elections were to take place, both would have to distance themselves from each other, returning to their usual political positions, which would make the next inevitable talks between the two parties even tougher to sell to their voters, memberships, and core supporter groups.
These talks take place in the fallout of the failed coalition talks in October, when the FDP (Free Democratic Party) leader Christian Lindner walked out on talks, leaving the Greens and the Union without a majority. The earliest a new government can be expected as a result of these talks will be April.