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Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, led the SPD at last year’s federal elections at which the party made it worst showing since the end of World War II / Photo: SPD

Germany: SPD votes to open coalition talks with CDU/CSU

Leaders of Germany’s CDU, CSU and SPD are set to meet next week to discuss a roadmap for upcoming coalition talks, following approval by the SPD party congress on Thursday to allow talks on forming a new ‘Grand Coalition’.

Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats agreed Thursday to open talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU on whether to renew their governing coalition or at least to support a minority government. The vote by delegates at a party conference of the SPD clears the way for talks that could resolve Germany’s political impasse.

Party leader Martin Schulz, Merkel’s defeated challenger in Germany’s 24 September federal election, secured a party congress’s agreement to a motion calling for talks on “whether and in what form” the party could support a new government.

The SPD congress re-elected Martin Schulz as party leader, with 81.9 percent of the vote, down from the 100 percent when first elected party leader in March.

But the road to a new government is likely to be lengthy and bumpy. Schulz had previously said the SPD would go into opposition, after its support fell to a post-war low in the September polls.

Schulz told the congress that the leadership’s plan for talks, which he hopes to start next week, “takes no option off the table” and wouldn’t automatically lead to a coalition.

“We don’t have to govern at any price, but we also shouldn’t want not to govern at any price,” he said. “What is important is what we can implement.”

The SPD congress re-elected Martin Schulz as party leader, with 81.9 percent of the vote, but the road to a new government is likely to be lengthy and bumpy / Photo: Kenneth Gbandi

 

Schulz has promised a ballot of the party’s entire membership on any coalition deal with Merkel’s Union bloc. Party leaders also agreed to hold a congress to consider whether to move on from exploratory talks – if they are successful – to full coalition negotiations.

If no coalition is agreed upon, that would leave only a minority government or a new election as options. Merkel has said she is “very sceptical” about leading a minority government, which hasn’t yet been tried in post-World War II Germany.

Schulz, however, made clear that some form of support for a minority conservative government is very much an option for his party.

In his speech, Schulz listed SPD priorities such as equal treatment for men and women in the labour market and a relatively liberal approach to immigration, rejecting the idea of a cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country.

The former European Parliament president made an impassioned speech calling for a United States of Europe ‘by 2025’, and argued that countries that don’t sign up to a treaty establishing a federal setup should then automatically leave the European Union.

Merkel gave a skeptical response when asked at a separate event in Berlin about Schulz’ push for a federalized Europe. She said she would concentrate on securing greater cooperation on economic, security, defense and other issues by 2025.

The Social Democrats have been part of Germany’s government for 15 of the past 19 years – twice joining a “grand coalition” under Merkel, from 2005 to 2009 and again from 2013 until now.

But the party suffered historically poor election results after both Merkel coalitions, with support slumping to a post-war low of 20.5 percent in September.

“The renewal of the Social Democratic Party will happen outside a ‘grand coalition,’ or it won’t happen,” said the leader of its youth wing, Kevin Kuehnert.

Sola Jolaoso with agency reports

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