More climate protection, a massive expansion of investment in schools and roads, and strengthening the social sphere – these are the core goals of the new SPD co-chairs, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. The two leaders are now demanding a renegotiation of the coalition agreement. During a TV debate in November, Saskia Esken made it clear that if the coalition partners refuse to debate on further cooperation, its leaders could withdraw the SPD from the Grand Coalition. After the election, Walter-Borjans reaffirmed this on the ARD channel.
"If our coalition partners continue blocking our ideas regarding these new tasks, we’ll have to decide on what to do next," he said.
In turn, Chancellor Merkel has been open for talks with the future SPD leadership but refused to renegotiate the coalition agreement. As her spokeswoman, Steffen Seibert, said on Monday, Merkel is fundamentally ready for cooperation and negotiations, "as is customary in any coalition." But negotiation on the prospects of the coalition itself is not currently underway.
Vote of No Confidence Against Merkel?
"The SPD has embarked on an adventure, and it’s unlikely that it will end well," political scientist Prof. Dr Werner Patzelt said about the SPD elections, as well as the demands of Esken and Walter-Borjans.
According to Patzelt, the CDU has no reason to make concessions regarding the future coalition.
"If the Union stubbornly refuses to renegotiate, the SPD, apparently, will have no choice but to leave the Great Coalition. But then it’s the SPD that will have to take the risk of new elections and a failed government coalition," the political scientist pointed out.
He advised both parties to achieve "clarity in relations": it’s time for the SPD to be honest and to rely clearly on a left-wing alliance in Germany. That would include a constructive vote of no confidence against Chancellor Merkel and a "red-red-green" majority after new elections. This would enable the voters to position themselves clearly. However, this won’t end well for the Social Democrats, the political scientist believes.
"The Social Democrats will shy away from this actually desirable decision, and SPD’s decline will continue, because nothing will change in the things that have caused this decline," he predicted.
At the same time, Patzelt considered the supposed "left shift" of the Christian Democrats under Angela Merkel as one of the major causes of the weakness of both the SPD and the CDU, as well as of the rise AfD Party.
End of Big Coalition?
Emeritus professor of political science at the Free University of Berlin, Nils Diederich, also sees no positive prospects for the SPD. He is convinced that if the party decided on this "new elections provocation" this would lead to a "catastrophic defeat". He said it all depends on whether the new party leaders would be able to establish themselves and, in addition, agree with the faction in the Bundestag, "which clearly supports maintaining the coalition." Thus, the new leaders would have to come to terms with the existing reality, which is that the SPD has achieved some success in the coalition.
"And if they quit now, they will never be able to explain to voters why they should vote for them again. The Social Democrats should first sort themselves out," Diederich said.
Patzelt believes that the CDU should have agreed to new negotiations.
"The question for the Union is who the next main candidate will be. And the second question is what the CDU’s goals before the next election are. They haven't agreed on that yet. I think that in January the party leadership will sit down and discuss what the SPD wants to do. The Union will grumble, but in the end, the parties will be able to reach some sort of acceptable compromise," he said.
Since 2005, the SPD has lost its role as a "major alternative" for the CDU and turned into a small party that, at best, could become a junior coalition partner for a large party that lacks a majority vote. Thus, we can’t say that early elections in the hope of creating a "red-red-green" coalition would be advantageous for the Social Democrats. "A left-wing coalition would mean that the SPD will again join a coalition as a junior partner," Diederich suggested.
He is rather sceptical about possible polls among party members, calling it "a big circus."
"When someone calls the people to the election, they should consider what the people want. Social Democratic voters followed former party leader Andrea Nahles and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz into the Grand Coalition, with a majority of about 60%. Now, the majority of 53% has voted for candidates who are rather sceptical, but are already retreating from their own position."
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