Merkel isolated over her austerity policies
Germany's Social Democrats threw down the gauntlet to Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday and insisted she would have to end her controversial austerity policies if they were to form a grand coalition with her conservatives in the wake of Sunday's general election.
The demand came from Martin Schulz, the influential Social Democrat (SPD) president of the European Parliament, as Ms Merkel faced the task of finding a willing coalition partner for her victorious Christian Democrats (CDU), which fell just short of gaining an absolute majority.
Interviewed for 'Der Spiegel', Mr Schulz was asked about Ms Merkel's austerity regime in financially stricken southern Europe. "Merkel will not be able to continue with these policies," he told the magazine bluntly.
Mr Schulz insisted that in a coalition, Ms Merkel would have to "do something" about mass youth unemployment in the region. "Merkel must follow up her words of social concern with action," he said. For her part, Ms Merkel declared at a press conference on Monday: "Our policy on Europe will not change."
Despite their differences, the Social Democrats, who won 25.7pc of the vote, still seemed the most likely future partners in government for Ms Merkel's conservatives, who romped home with 41.5pc in the poll. "The SPD is simply the larger party and that is why they are our first choice," said Volker Kauder, the conservative party whip, yesterday.
However, the inevitable dominance of the Christian Democrats in any future coalition remains a major disincentive to the SPD, which would be dwarfed in such an alliance.
The party is deeply divided. The SPD in North Rhine Westphalia said it strongly opposed the idea of the party entering a grand coalition.
Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD party chairman who was Ms Merkel's environment minister in her previous grand coalition formed in 2005, has declared that he will not announce any decision until after a key party meeting on Friday.