Monday 17 December 2018

SPD's vote for German coalition talks eases Merkel's political crisis

Pleased with result: SPD leader Martin Schulz. Photo: REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen
Pleased with result: SPD leader Martin Schulz. Photo: REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

Barbara Woolsey in Berlin

Germany moved a step closer to forming a government after months of political uncertainty yesterday, as the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) voted to begin coalition talks with Angela Merkel's conservatives.

Around 600 SPD delegates gathered in Bonn yesterday for a fraught and at times emotional debate that lasted well into the afternoon. The final vote was 362 votes for, and 279 against, with one abstention, and followed a thorough recount after the first showing of hands was too close for officials to call.

During a fervid speech before the vote, SPD leader Martin Schulz urged party delegates to make the right choice between "coalition negotiations or new elections".

"People across Europe are watching this SPD party congress," he said. "This is, entirely without a doubt, a key moment in the young history of our party."

The SPD had previously planned to go into opposition following its worst election result since Germany became a federal republic in 1949, after its previous coalition with Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Delegates made a U-turn last month when exploratory coalition talks collapsed between conservatives, Greens and pro-business Free Democrats, throwing the government into doubt.

Ms Merkel told reporters in Berlin that she was pleased although there were "still many questions to clear up in detail and that will require intensive deliberation".

She said a preliminary deal struck last week between the SPD and CDU would now guide the forthcoming formal discussions. Any final deal will still need to be put to a vote by the SPD's delegates.

If coalition talks collapse again, Ms Merkel will have a severe political crisis on her hands. Calling a snap election or forming the first minority government in post-war history would be among her unfavourable options.

Yesterday's vote was originally expected to be a formality given the preliminary deal. But the outcome had become increasingly unpredictable in recent days, as the party's left and youth factions argued SPD policies were being trampled on.

A grassroots rebellion was led against a Yes vote by Kevin Kuhnert, a 28-year-old political novice who has been compared to Jeremy Corbyn by German media. Mr Kuhnert had argued that the party needed to leave power to revitalise itself after four years as the CDU's junior partner.

Following the vote, Mr Schulz pledged to negotiate hard for more concessions on labour, health and migration policies, adding that the agreed-upon prerequisites were "no coalition agreement".

Europe's largest economy has been effectively without a leadership since the September 24 election, forcing Germany to take a back seat in EU affairs.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, dependent upon Ms Merkel's support in driving forward his ambitious plans for EU reform, had spoken out in support of a new grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU, the country's two biggest parties. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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