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Strange bedfellows: German SPD vacates middle ground in build-up to post-Merkel election, making overtures to ex-Communist Left

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Strange bedfellows: German SPD vacates middle ground in build-up to post-Merkel election, making overtures to ex-Communist Left
The Social Democratic Party is looking to the fringes of national politics for support in creating a governing coalition next year. One surprising potential partner is the Left, borne out of the former East German Communist Party

With a national election 12 months away, the stars seem to be aligning for Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), giving them a real shot at winning their first federal poll since 2002 – but there are some hard decisions to make if they want to form a government.

As you would expect, they are organised well in advance, having just chosen their chancellor candidate to run against whoever Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) select to lead their race, having lost preferred candidate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer earlier this year when she abruptly resigned.

The SPD pick is currently the nation’s finance minister, Olaf Scholz, enjoying a surge in popularity nationwide thanks to his role in overseeing the free spending, economy-boosting stimulus programme necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and its savage effect on Germany’s GDP, expected to drop around 6.5% this year.

Come election time, many of the plans Scholz is putting into place should have come to fruition, and that should provide some impetus to his campaign at just the right time.

Of course, if the SPD is to form a government as the senior partner – it is currently playing second fiddle in its coalition with the CDU – then it will need help from others, most probably Die Grünen (the Greens), who at 18% are four points ahead of them in the most recent YouGov poll.

SPD Co-Leader Norbert Walter-Borjans even raised the idea of inviting Die Linke (The Left) into government if necessary, to make up the numbers in a red-red-green (R2G) coalition.

This would have been unthinkable previously, as the Left emerged from the remains of the old East German Communist Party and has not always viewed the SPD favourably. But hey, political ambition often sees strange bedfellows, and the lure of power could well be enough for the Left to forget about their opposing stances. 

After all, Bremen has a R2G state government, as does Thuringia, so at a regional level this is not so unusual – but a tripartite coalition at federal level would take some handling.

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Only in their dreams would the SPD imagine going it alone by becoming the largest faction in the Bundestag, having achieved that only three times in the party’s history.

How far will it go to get its hands on the reins of government? Will it ask the Left to tone down some of its more controversial policies, such as the scrapping of NATO and replacing it with a security organisation of which Russia would be a member? And what about the Left’s demands that the US pack up its military bases on German soil?

The Greens, too, have their issues at the heart of a left-leaning ideology, and the closure of nuclear power stations is high on their list – though how likely is that?

What is interesting is the drift of the SPD away from the centre-left towards the fringes of German politics. By even entertaining the idea of the anti-establishment Left, there’s an indication that the rising popularity of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) on the far right of the political spectrum is being counterbalanced on the left.

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With the middle ground, and indeed the government, occupied by the two traditionalist parties, consensus is the order of the day, when many voters want a bit more of a say in how things run.

It makes good sense for those bogged in the middle ground to go scouting elsewhere for votes, provided the SPD can accommodate a R2G coalition at a political price it can afford.

Now is the time to sound out potential partners, as any disputes that may arise will be long-forgotten come election time, and there’s a reduced risk of nasty surprises suddenly popping up.

Because it was one of those shockers that led to the resignation of Merkel’s chosen successor, Kramp-Karrenbauer, after a state election in Thuringia and a bungled deal between the CDU and AfD. That setback put the CDU on the back foot in its preparations – right where the SPD will hope to keep them.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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