Wednesday 16 January 2019

Merkel deal on the rocks as party revolt forces SPD leader to quit

Under fire: Chancellor Angela Merkel gets Valentine’s Day flowers at the Chancellery in Berlin yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Under fire: Chancellor Angela Merkel gets Valentine’s Day flowers at the Chancellery in Berlin yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Justin Huggler

Angela Merkel's new coalition government was thrown into disarray before it had even taken office, as the party leader of her main partner announced he would not take up his cabinet post.

Martin Schulz, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), was named as foreign minster on Wednesday after finally agreeing a coalition deal with Ms Merkel four months after the election. But just 48 hours later, he announced he was withdrawing his candidacy and would not serve in the government.

The deal to form a coalition is expected to go ahead without him, although it still has to be approved by SPD members in a postal vote.

The unexpected announcement came after Mr Schulz faced a revolt from party members incensed at his decision to become foreign minister, despite pledging never to serve under Ms Merkel.

He said he had decided to renounce office over fears the row could lead SPD members to reject the coalition deal.

But sources close to the party said he was forced into the climbdown after being given an ultimatum by the rest of the party leadership.

"I believe a successful vote may be at risk from the discussions about me," Mr Schulz said. "I am therefore renouncing my intention of joining the government.

"We all go into politics for the people in this country. That means the interests of the party have to come before my personal ambitions."

Mr Schulz, a former European Parliament president, was briefly talked of as Germany's next chancellor when he returned from Brussels to enter national politics.

He was elected SPD leader with 100pc support in 2016 and the country was gripped by 'Schulzmania' in the early part of last year.

But he led the party to its worst ever result in September's election.

His political career is now almost certainly over. He announced he was stepping down as SPD leader in a bid to fend off calls for him to focus on rebuilding the party instead of seeking ministerial office.

But that gamble appears to have backfired, with his critics accusing him of using the party leadership as his personal "trampoline" to secure a "plum government post".

© Daily Telegraph, London

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