SPD shakeup: What does the future hold for Merkel’s coalition government?

Headed by a new leftist leadership duo, Germany's struggling Social Democrats are gearing up for a crunch congress from Friday that could decide the future of Chancellor Angela Merkel's fragile coalition government.

SPD shakeup: What does the future hold for Merkel's coalition government?
The new leaders of the SPD, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, following their election on Saturday. Photo: DPA

As SPD members gather to discuss their demands for keeping the coalition afloat, here's a look at four possible scenarios for the months ahead.

'GroKo' clings on

Incoming SPD leaders Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken are critical of Merkel's grand right-left coalition, known as “GroKo” to Germans.

But the pair have stopped short of calling for a vote on whether to stay in the loveless marriage at the December 6-8th congress.

Instead, they want to tweak the hard-fought coalition agreement struck with Merkel's centre-right CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party after 2017's inconclusive general elections.

READ ALSO: Bumps ahead for Merkel after ally loses shock vote

The duo are expected to ask SPD members to back a slew of new demands, including a higher minimum wage, more investment in Germany's crumbling infrastructure and more ambitious climate policies.

The other two coalition parties have ruled out renegotiating the coalition accord.

But Merkel's spokesman has said the veteran chancellor is “open to talks”.

If a compromise is struck and the SPD secures some concessions, the GroKo could survive until Germany's next election in 2021 — allowing Merkel to complete her fourth and final term as planned.

This scenario is seen as most likely by observers as it would also allow the SPD, weakened by a series of poll setbacks, to sharpen its profile under the new leaders before facing voters again.

The new leaders of the SPD, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, in September. Photo: DPA

Merkel-led minority government

If it fails to push through its demands, the SPD could pull the plug on the partnership with the CDU/CSU, triggering the coalition's collapse.

Merkel, keen to shape her own political exit after 14 years in power, could then try to head a minority government — a first in postwar Germany.

Merkel has in the past said she was “very sceptical” about leading a government without a stable parliamentary majority, but observers say the prospect may be less daunting now.

Her cabinet has already approved a budget for 2020, and Merkel's favoured successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer could earn her stripes by assuming the
role of deputy chancellor.

Merkel herself would be able to stay on and captain Germany's six-month presidency of the EU Council from July 2020.

After that, new elections would be just around the corner anyway.

Several senior CDU figures have voiced their preference for this scenario, including Merkel critic Friedrich Merz, who said the “experimental nature” of a minority government “has its charms”.

READ ALSO: Merkel's 'floundering' CDU braces for stormy party congress

'Jamaica' coalition

If the SPD walks away, Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance could try to woo the liberal FDP and the left-leaning Greens into a tie-up nicknamed “Jamaica” — because the parties' colours match those of the Caribbean country's flag.

A 2017 attempt at such an alliance broke down when the FDP abruptly quit talks, but the party has signalled it would be ready to play ball now.

The Greens, however, have less incentive these days to join in as junior coalition partner.

Spurred by growing concern about climate change, they have surged in the polls and are poised to become Germany's second-largest party in the next elections — putting even the chancellery within reach.

The Greens' co-leader Annalena Baerbock, Maike Schaefer, Sven Giegold and co-leader Robert Habeck on Monday. Photo: DPA

Snap elections

Snap elections are seen as the least likely outcome by local media — but they also wrongly predicted that the SPD would choose another, more moderate leadership duo last month.

The move would require Merkel to call, and lose, a confidence vote in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

Attention would then shift to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who would embark on complex negotiations to try to cobble together another coalition.

If that failed, he would dissolve parliament and fresh elections would follow within 60 days.

Voters could well punish the SPD and the CDU for sending them to the polls early, while the far-right AfD and the Greens stand to make gains.

READ ALSO: 'Surfing the Zeitgeist': How the Greens have won over Germany

Although snap polls are rare in Germany, Der Spiegel weekly said it was “nonsense” to fear them.

“Instead of Merkel's eternal end phase, a fresh start could be possible,” it wrote.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.