‘A leftist course’: Merkel’s CDU wary as coalition partner seeks concessions

Chancellor Angela Merkel's party on Sunday reacted coolly to concessions sought by the new leaders of the Social Democrats in return for keeping their fragile coalition afloat

'A leftist course': Merkel's CDU wary as coalition partner seeks concessions
New SPD leaders Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken at a conference for their party on Sunday. Photo: DPA

“It's bad for Germany when every important decision depends on how the SPD is feeling at that moment,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Merkel's CDU conservatives, told the Bild am Sonntag daily.

At a crunch party congress this weekend, the ailing SPD voted against an immediate exit from the government.

READ ALSO: Merkel given reprieve as coalition partner votes not to split

But new leadership duo Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken won the party's backing to steer a more leftwing course.

The party backed them to open “discussions” with Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc on demands including a higher minimum wage, more public investment and more climate action.

No timeframe has been given but talks could start as early as this week, according to German media.

If no progress is made, the SPD could call it quits — potentially upending Merkel's plan to complete her fourth term before retiring from politics in 2021.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, seen as Merkel's preferred successor, said she had hoped for a “clearer commitment” from the SPD to continue governing.

She slammed the party for trying to tweak the hard-fought coalition agreement clinched after 2017's inconclusive general elections, pointing out that leadership changes at the CDU and CSU never put the left-right coalition at stake.

“The CDU is loyal to the agreement and I expect the same from the new SPD leadership,” she told Bild.

“I can't accept conditions along the lines of 'If we don't get this, we walk'.”

The secretary general of the CSU, Markus Blume, was equally scathing.

“An SPD on a leftist course won't lead to a government on a leftist course,” he tweeted.


The CDU's deputy chairman Armin Laschet however was more conciliatory, saying he was willing to discuss the SPD's push to raise the incoming CO2 price from a proposed €10 per tonne.

He said the proposal did not mean a complete reopening of the government's already agreed climate package, which is working its way through parliament and still needs backing from sceptical Green MPs too.

Far more contentious is the SPD's call to invest some €450 billion over the next 10 years in schools, transport and digitalisation projects.

To achieve this, the government would have to stop clinging to its “black zero” policy of maintaining a balanced budget and not taking on new debts — anathema to the CDU and CSU.

READ ALSO: Merkel coalition faces 'stress test' as SPD conference gets underway

Merkel herself just last month touted the “record-high” investments planned in the government's 2020 budget, adding that it was “absurd” to run up new debts.

Weakened by a series of election drubbings, the SPD is hoping to sharpen its profile with the list of demands.

But if the upcoming talks fail, Germany faces the rare prospect of snap polls or a Merkel-led minority government.

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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”.