Germany’s ruling coalition is facing collapse after the new leader of the junior partner to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) branded the parties’ long-standing arrangement “crap for democracy”.
The leftist duo of Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans won a shock victory to take control of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) party on Saturday, defeating a centrist pair led by finance minister Olaf Scholz. Their victory in the membership poll will soon be formalised by party delegates.
Speaking to broadcaster ARD, Ms Esken held her cards close to her chest on whether she intends to walk out on the coalition, something that would accelerate the end of Chancellor Merkel’s career.
But she made clear that she saw the coalition as damaging her party and German democracy, with both parties having to make compromises that alienated supporters.
“We’ve seen both big parties lose a lot due to the coalition, so we both have an interest in governing in other alliances,” Ms Esken said.
The new leadership will set out their plans at the party conference over the coming weekend, where delegates will vote on several decisions key to the country’s immediate future including whether to stay in the coalition until 2021.
Ms Esken has suggested she would be willing to stay in the pact but only if the CDU agreed to half a trillion euros in public spending on key infrastructure over the next decade. Such a huge spending package would mean blowing up the centre-right party’s hallowed “schwarze null” spending rules, which commit Berlin to maintaining a balanced budget.
With Germany’s economy stagnating, a growing chorus of economists and left-wing politicians have called for the government to make use of historically low interest rates and increase investment in roads, rail infrastructure and schools via new debts.
But the CDU’s economic council warned the party leadership on Sunday not to “give in to the SPD’s utopian demands only for the sake of staying in power.”
Mrs Merkel’s would-be successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, urged the Social Democrats on Sunday to remain part of the government but ruled out re-negotiating their agreement.
“For the CDU it is quite clear: we stand by this coalition,” she said. “We stand by this coalition on the basis that has been negotiated.“
Several CDU heavyweights also made clear they were in no mood to talk, with one dismissing the SPD as being in “self-destruction mode.”
If the SPD walk out, the most likely outcome would be the CDU going it alone as a minority government under Ms Merkel or new elections being called for next year. Such an outcome would mean the end of the veteran Chancellor’s rule.
The power struggle inside the SPD is set to continue at party conference where moderates, who had to swallow an 8 percent defeat for their candidates, will seek to balance the leftists’ new strength by winning elections for the vacant deputy leader positions.
The SPD has been without a leader since June when Andrea Nahles resigned after a poor showing in the European elections and months of desperate polling figures.