Wednesday 16 January 2019

German coalition deal in doubt over party backlash

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Carrel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) faced another barrage of criticism last night from within their own parties over a controversial coalition deal that must still be approved by disgruntled SPD rank-and-file members.

Germany has been without a proper government since an inconclusive election last September, which saw Ms Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left SPD both lose seats.

Ms Merkel annoyed members of her Christian Democrats (CDU) by agreeing in the coalition talks to cede the finance ministry to the SPD. And members of the SPD could yet reject the coalition deal in a ballot whose results will be announced on March 4.

On Sunday, Ms Merkel defended "painful" concessions she made to the SPD to win herself a fourth term as chancellor, and she said criticism among her conservatives was not a sign her authority was waning.

Güenther Oettinger, a senior CDU member and the European Union's budget commissioner, rushed to her defence yesterday: "I find her still strong... and am sure she will meet the expectations of our party and the public in the coming days."

But Mr Oettinger also conceded that this would be her final term as chancellor, if the new 'grand coalition' goes ahead, addressing a succession debate that is starting to take hold as the CDU slowly starts to look ahead to a post-Merkel era.

"It is clear to everyone that the chancellor is going into a last term," he told Deutschlandfunk radio, adding that she would "skilfully set in motion the succession in these four years".

Paul Ziemiak, leader of the conservatives' youth wing, welcomed Ms Merkel's readiness to set out her picks for ministerial posts before a CDU party conference on February 26, but lamented the decision to give up the finance ministry to the SPD.

"That did not go down well with our (party) base," he said.

Many in the SPD rank and file are also unhappy with the coalition deal, which will renew an awkward ruling alliance with Ms Merkel's bloc that has governed Germany since 2013.

The leader of the SPD's youth wing is travelling around Germany urging the party's 464,000 members to vote against the deal in the postal ballot.

Top SPD officials will meet today to decide on a change of leadership. Martin Schulz said last week he would quit as leader so the party could reinvent itself, and urged members to back parliamentary floor leader Andrea Nahles as his successor.

Mr Schulz on Friday then gave up plans to become German foreign minister, hoping to shore up support among SPD members for the new coalition - but the manner in which he anointed Ms Nahles as his successor rankled with many in the party.

"We can't have a situation where two, three or four people have a discussion and say who does what. Rather, there should be an orderly procedure," said SPD lawmaker Hilde Mattheis.

Ralf Stegner, one of the SPD's deputy leaders, called for an end to "indiscipline" in the party.

Ms Merkel said on Sunday if SPD members rejected the coalition, Germany would probably hold a new election.

Irish Independent

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