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Merkel survives as German Chancellor as SPD backs ‘Grand Coalition’

SPD grassroots agree to coalition rather than face an election which threatens disaster for their party

German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains Chancellor of Germany after a vote by the SPD’s grassroots gave the SPD’s leadership the mandate it needed to continue its “grand coalition’ with her.

The majority of 66% for the “grand coalition” amongst SPD members was decisive.

I have written previously how this is the worst possible result for Germany, perpetuating a “grand coalition” government which in the September parliamentary elections visibly lost support, and which is unwanted by the German public.

In the event the very unpopularity of the decision to continue with the “grand coalition” seems to have worked in its favour.

Ever since it became know that the SPD’s leadership was looking to revive the “grand coalition” with Angela Merkel the SPD’s popularity has sunk like a stone.  Not only has it fallen to a simply calamitous 15-16% in recent opinion polls – down from an already disastrous 20.5% in the September election – but two opinion polls have even placed it behind the AfD.

Unsurprisingly the SPD’s collapsing poll rating appears to have spooked its membership, which accordingly rallied to the “grand coalition” proposal in order to avoid another election in which the SPD risked annihilation.

That the result will not provide Germany with the strong government it needs is not just my opinion.

It is also that of the Times of London with which for once I find myself in complete agreement.  I reproduce what it says in its editorial commenting on the revival of Germany’s ‘grand coalition’ today

Mrs Merkel is a diminished presence in a diminished coalition. At the general election almost half a year ago, the CDU and CSU bled votes as disappointed conservatives either stayed at home or headed for the far-right anti-immigrant party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). The Social Democrats recorded their worst postwar result. The centre is shrinking and there is nothing very grand any more about the grand coalition. The AfD, seen only recently as an upstart protest party, is now Germany’s chief political opposition.

The respect for Mrs Merkel over the past 12 years derived from her durability and her skill in forging a political consensus at home and abroad. It would be foolish to bet on those qualities seeing her through another full term. She is ruling on borrowed time. Six months of her four-year term have been gnawed away in coalition negotiations. The 177-page coalition agreement indicates that her position could be reviewed in two years’ time. The pressure will be on her party to come up with a credible successor, one that can shift the CDU back to the centre right rather than some ill- defined middle ground. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, will be subject to intense lobbying from the youth wing to move the left and start carving out alternatives to marriage with Mrs Merkel.

The resuscitated Merkel coalition is attractive to the EU because it seems to promise stability. In fact, instability is built into its genes. Social Democrats voted to preserve the alliance not out of enthusiasm but out of fear of new elections. Its miserable 20 per cent share of the vote has shrunk even further according to pollsters; a fresh election risked the humiliation of being beaten into third place by the AfD.

In passing, I should say that one person who I suspect is looking upon the revival of Germany’s ‘grand coalition’ with a measure of quiet relief is Russian President Putin.

Though it is no secret that Putin and Merkel do not get on well with each other, and that Putin would be delighted to see the back of her, the political party in Germany with which Putin has the strongest contacts is the SPD.

Not only are he and former SPD leader Gerhard Schröder close friends, but Putin has forged close ties with other prominent SPD figures such as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

The SPD is also the strongest supporter within Germany of Nord Stream 2.

By contrast Putin has no close contacts with the Free Democrats with whom Merkel was originally seeking to go into a so-called ‘Jamaica coalition’ with, whilst the Greens – the third party in the proposed ‘Jamaica coalition’ – are straightforwardly hostile to him.

Moreover it seems that the Free Democrats are unenthusiastic about Nord Stream 2, whilst the Greens straightforwardly oppose it.

Revival of the ‘grand coalition’, whatever harm it may do to Germany, at least provides Putin with people in the German government he can talk and work with, whilst it provides at least some guarantee that Nord Stream 2 will be built, with completion of the project due next year.

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