On Wednesday evening, the Social Democrats (SPD) are meeting Angela Merkel in a bid to end the political stalemate; the Chancellor has been struggling to forge a new government in recent weeks after coalition talks with the pro-business FDP and the Green party failed.
The centre-left SPD had agreed last week to kick off talks with Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) after leader Martin Schulz pleaded with his party for the green light to do so.
The SPD has made clear that it is considering an array of options though, including rejecting a partnership with the Chancellor’s conservative bloc in a “GroKo” or a “Grand Coalition” and setting the country on the road to snap elections, or supporting a minority government led by the veteran leader. German voters handed Merkel a victory with no majority in the September 24th polls.
Most recently, the Social Democrats have been considering a third option – a “cooperation coalition” or “KoKo” – which could involve the SPD and the CDU/CSU forming an alliance and agreeing on some issues while leaving potentially conflict points to parliamentary debates.
Why does the SPD support a ‘KoKo’?
In light of strong resistance among SPD members to sign up as junior partners in a Grand Coalition with the CDU/CSU for another another four years, Schulz has been hesitant about joining another “GroKo.”
But the party leadership believe a “KoKo” could free them up to oppose the CDU on issues such as social justice while working with them on Europe and digitalization. The SPD and CDU/CSU are moreover divided on issues such as health care and tax cuts.
Party priorities according to SPD politician Natascha Kohnen's statement to Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) include the “Solidarrente” pension plan and putting limits on increasing rent prices.
SPD members argue a “KoKo” would allow their party to uphold more of a separate identity, potentially sparing them from another crushing loss like the one they suffered in the general election. With 20.5 percent of the vote, the SPD scored its worst result since the end of the Second World War.
“We would then have the freedom to vote with other parties beyond such cooperation,” Matthias Miersch, a spokesman for left-wing SPD parliamentarians, told the German Press Agency (DPA).
“I would call it a cooperation that’s much freer than a coalition.”
The association “Mehr Demokratie” (More Democracy) also supports a “KoKo” alliance. “More open cooperation between the parties strengthens the parliament where real debates can be held again,” said association spokeswoman Claudine Nierth.
This could be a kind of “fresh cure for democracy,” Nierth added.
What does the CDU think of a ‘KoKo’?
A cooperation coalition has been met with initial rejection by the CDU/CSU.
“I do not believe in half-hearted deals with the SPD,” CDU deputy chair Julia Klöckner told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
“One either wants to govern or not,” she added.
CSU leader Horst Seehofer said he thought nothing of the proposed agreement and that it reminded him of a “toddler’s group.”
“You can't partially govern and partially oppose. That doesn’t work,” Seehofer said.
The Chancellor has also stated that a minority government would not be favourable as it would be too unstable.
Merkel urged the SPD on Wednesday to pursue “speedy talks” towards a “stable government.”
In an era of a United States led by Donald Trump and with much of Europe flirting with nationalist populism, Merkel underscored the importance of the ability of Germany to take action.
“I don't think I'm exaggerating if I say that the world is waiting for us to be capable of taking action,” she said on Monday after huddling with her party's top brass.
“I believe that a stable government is the basis on which one can best work with France and for Europe,” said Merkel, making clear that she does not favour leading a minority government.
Former CSU leader and Minister President of Bavaria Edmund Stoiber told Bild newspaper on Wednesday that while a Grand Coalition would be the most stable option, other options should also be explored.
“If there's no other way with the SPD than for them to support a minority government, I'd definitely prefer to have new elections,” Stoiber said.