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Coalition future in doubt as Angela Merkel’s party closes door on renegotiation

Christian Democrat leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the new SPD leadership ‘must decide whether they want to stay in this coalition or not’

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to step down in 2021. Reuters
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to step down in 2021. Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats on Monday rejected a renegotiation of the coalition agreement with the Social Democrats after the junior party elected new leaders.

Members of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Saturday chose as its leaders Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, both critics of Ms Merkel’s government, who said they will demand policy changes if they are to maintain their support.

The pair defeated Ms Merkel’s Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholtz in the vote and have advocated renegotiating issues including minimum wage levels, climate protection and investment.

But Ms Merkel’s Union bloc has made it clear that it sees no need for a significant overhaul of the alliance.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader of Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union, told ZDF television on Monday: “We made a pledge to the voters. We want to govern on the basis of what was agreed.”

“We are focusing on that and not on the mental state of any coalition partner,” she added.

“This new SPD leadership must decide whether they want to stay in this coalition or not.”

The rebellion against the SPD establishment pushes Ms Merkel a step closer to the exit after 14 years in power.

It also throws up a potential conflict between the chancellor — keen to see out her final term — and Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is trying to assert her authority as party leader and may be less willing to compromise as she positions herself to succeed the outgoing chancellor.

Ricardo Garcia, euro-region chief economist at UBS AG, said the appointment of Mr Walter-Borjans and Ms Esken could herald demands for “a more ambitious climate-change package, higher minimum wages, broader agreed wages and changes to fiscal rules”.

The SPD has sought to mitigate possible damage to the coalition caused by the new leaders.

In comments after their victory on Saturday, Mr Walter-Borjans said the party has no intention of abruptly leaving the alliance.

The SPD is, in practice, expected to soften its demands, asking for Ms Merkel’s balanced-budget stance to be scrapped and a raise in Germany’s minimum wage.

Mr Walter-Borjans has also indicated that Mr Scholz will stay on as finance minister, another measure meant to appeal to the SPD.

Johannes Kahrs, the SPD’s parliamentary caucus budget spokesman and a party moderate, said on Monday he does not expect the government to collapse.

If a general election is triggered, the party is at risk of finishing in fourth place behind the Greens and the far-right AfD.

“Both sides in the coalition know that we have to find some sensible results for this country,” Mr Kahrs said in an interview with DLF radio.

“The voters have the right to expect that this nation is ruled sensibly until September 2021,” he went on.

“That there is some disagreement over content is completely acceptable.”

A party congress starting on Friday is likely to show what the Social Democrats want to achieve to stay in the coalition.

The party is mired in a long-term poll slump, which some blame on its status as junior coalition partner for 10 out of the past 14 years.

Updated: December 2, 2019 03:52 PM



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