Germany’s SPD at odds over coalition plan

Leading members of Germany's Social Democrats voiced scepticism Sunday over a preliminary coalition agreement reached with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, days after the hard-fought deal was hailed as a breakthrough.

Germany's SPD at odds over coalition plan
Berlin's SPD Mayor Michael Müller with Angela Merkel. File photo: DPA

Berlin's SPD Mayor Michael Müller said he was “very critical” about entering into another government with Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc after all three parties slumped to their worst results in decades in last September's election.

“The same coalition with the same policies is not the right answer,” the centre-left politician told the Tagesspiegel daily, calling for “further talks” to win more concessions on key SPD demands.

Party leaders on Friday announced after tortuous negotiations that they had signed off on a policy blueprint paving the way for formal coalition discussions to begin after months of paralysis in Europe's top economy.

In the 28-page document, the parties agreed to join France in a push to “strengthen and reform” the eurozone, to limit the influx of asylum seekers to Germany to around 200,000 a year, and to refrain from tax hikes.

But Müller lamented the SPD's failure to secure a tax hike for the rich or a restructuring of the country's two-tier health care system — two major campaign pledges.

Those concerns were echoed by the SPD's Malu Dreyer, premier of Rhineland-Palatinate state, who also slammed the compromise to cap immigration.

The migration stance outlined in the roadmap was “very difficult” for the SPD, she told the German newspaper group Funke Mediengruppe.

The criticism will make for uncomfortable reading for SPD chief Martin Schulz, who has promised to give party members the last word on a third stint as Merkel's junior coalition partner.

In a sign of the difficulties ahead, SPD delegates at a regional party conference in Saxony-Anhalt on Saturday narrowly voted against starting formal coalition talks.

Spiegel news weekly said the non-binding vote was “hugely symbolic” coming just a day after the in-principle agreement “that Schulz is trying to sell as a success”.

The stakes will be higher next Saturday, when 600 party delegates will be asked to give the green light at a congress, followed by a final vote by more than 400,000 rank-and-file members.

The SPD's youth wing chief Kevin Kühnert has vowed to spend the coming days criss-crossing the country to press his case against a new grand coalition, known as “GroKo” in German political shorthand.

Top conservative lawmaker Alexander Dobrindt of Merkel's Bavarian CSU sister party urged Schulz to nip the potential revolt in the bud.

“Martin Schulz must now show that the SPD can be a reliable coalition partner and get this brouhaha under control,” Dobrindt told the Bild am Sonntag daily.

The SPD initially vowed to go into opposition after scoring a humiliating 20.5 percent in the September ballot.

But former EU Parliament chief Schulz faced pressure to reconsider after Merkel's efforts to forge a government with two smaller parties collapsed in November.

Merkel, whose political life is on the line after more than 12 years in power, has welcomed the coalition blueprint as “a fresh start” for Germany and Europe.

Commentators however have already described a possible repeat of the left-right alliance as a “coalition of losers”.

READ ALSO: Merkel risks leading weak 'losers' coalition for Germany: analysts


How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP