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How the left-wing of the SPD are still trying to sabotage a new government

At the weekend the Social Democrats (SPD) voted to continue coalition talks with Angela Merkel’s conservatives. But the left-wing of the party believe they can still collapse the talks.

How the left-wing of the SPD are still trying to sabotage a new government
Kevin Kühnert. Photo: DPA

It was an incredibly close-run thing. On Sunday 372 of the 642 delegates at the SPD party congress voted to approve the results of preliminary talks on reforming a grand coalition with Merkel’s Christian Union.

The vote came as a huge relief for party leader Martin Schulz, who claimed that he had achieved “excellent” results at the end of the week-long negotiations.

But even agreeing to enter talks with Merkel marked a highly controversial U-turn from Schulz.

Immediately after the national election back in September, he claimed that the SPD would go into opposition. After four years as the junior partner in the government, the centre-left party had lost 40 seats in the Bundestag, scoring its worst post-war result.

But the situation changed when coalition talks between Merkel and two small parties – the Greens and the Free Democrats – collapsed in late Novemebr. Facing huge pressure from the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Schulz agreed to enter talks so that Germany could form a new government after months of deadlock.

But some in the SPD never accepted this logic. Most prominently, Kevin Kühnert, the leader of the party’s youth wing Jusos, vocally rejected any new deal with Merkel, saying that a re-run of the election would be the best thing for German democracy.

In the lead up to the party conference, Kühnert toured the country trying to persuade delegates that they should reject the preliminary coalition agreement.

After just failing to sway party delegates, the Jusos and allies on the left of the party have developed a new tactic.

Once the SPD leadership have agreed on the final terms of a coalition contract with the CDU/CSU, they will put the deal to party members to vote upon. To try and ensure a 'no' vote, elements within the Jusos are attempting to persuade people to join the party in the hope that they will then vote down a deal.

Under the provocative slogan “pay €10 and stop the grand coalition” the Jusos are fighting an online campaign to attract young members. SPD membership costs €5 per month, implying that the Jusos are encouraging people to just join the party for two months in order to block a deal with Merkel.

The strategy seems to be working. Between Sunday and Tuesday, some 1,847 people applied for party membership online.

Lars Klingbeil, the SPD general secretary said that he encouraged new members to join the party.

“But what isn’t okay is when people say: join the party for ten euros and then stay two months, vote against the coalition and then leave again,” he added.

According to Die Zeit, the party hierarchy are now fighting back. At the start of next week they plan to agree on a deadline for the date by which one must have joined the party in order to have the right to vote on the coalition deal, the paper reported on Wednesday.

Even Kühnert has distanced himself from the controversial Jusos campaign, which is being led to by the youth-wing in North Rhine-Westphalia. He told the Rheinische Post that people should not join the party for strategic reasons.

“We only want new members who share our core principles and want to join out of conviction,” he said.

With DPA

POLITICS

Civil servants ‘getting burnout’ over energy crisis, says German minister

Public sector workers trying to tackle Germany's ongoing energy crisis are suffering from illness and burnout, Economics Minister Robert Habeck has said.

Civil servants 'getting burnout' over energy crisis, says German minister

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has unleashed economic turmoil in Europe, placing Germany’s new coalition government under pressure to firefight multiple crises.

Perhaps the largest of these is the energy crisis, which has prompted fears of gas shortages in the winter months and seen prices for fossil fuels soar for both households and businesses.

According to Economics and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, the staff at his ministry – who are charged with tackling the energy crisis – are struggling to cope with the extraordinary pressure that they have been under in recent months. 

“People, at some point they have to sleep and eat too,” the Green politician said at a congress of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) in Berlin. “It’s not bullshit I’m talking now: people get sick. They have burnout, they get tinnitus. They can’t take it anymore.”

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In the last nine months alone, the Economics Ministry has produced 20 laws and 28 ordinances, Habeck revealed. He said this was likely more than the ministry produced over the entirety of the previous four-year legislature. 

Highlighting the strain that his staff were under, Habeck explained that it was always the same people in charge in drafting new laws in the battle to secure the energy supply.

To say that the Tourism Ministry could help restructure the electricity market would be like “telling the artist who made the sculptures that he can be the president of the Federation of German Industries,” the Green politician added. 

Batting off criticism that the ministry had occasionally been slow to act, Habeck said: “Of course you could say, ‘why didn’t you do the regulation a week earlier’. But it’s not because people are sleeping, it’s because there is a limit to their physical capacity.”

Gas levy criticism 

Germany has had to cope with an ever intensifying energy emergency over the past few months, culminating in Russia reducing supplies and then turning off gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline entirely in September. 

Most recently, the government took steps to nationalise its largest gas supplier – Uniper – in a move to prevent the collapse of the country’s energy infrastructure. Uniper has suffered losses of billions of euros this year due to the costs involved in replacing cheap Russian gas supplies at short notice. 

Habeck, who has appeared increasingly world-weary and exhausted in recent months, has faced sharp criticism for a number of decisions made during the crisis. 

Most controversially, his decision to implement a gas levy to bail out major energy companies has been met with consternation from both the opposition and the Greens’ coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD). 

On Friday, SPD leader Lars Klingbeil reiterated concerns about the fairness of the gas levy at a time when many are struggling to pay their energy bills.

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil speaks to the press during the ARD Summer Interview in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

In a situation where the government is facing multiple decisions in a short space of time, ministers also require the strength to “reconsider and correct their path”, Klingbeil told RND.

“(The gas levy) is about supporting the gas supply infrastructure,” he added. “However, this must be done fairly.”

In spite of the nationalisation of Uniper, Habeck has confirmed that the gas levy – which adds 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour of energy onto gas bills – will still be introduced on October 1st.

However, on Thursday he announced that there would be changes to Energy Security Act to ensure that only companies who needed the bailout would benefit from the levy.

According to the ministry, the changes are set to be passed by the cabinet on September 28th.

READ ALSO: Germany to push ahead with gas levy plans

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