The vote ends months of political uncertainty in Europe’s biggest economy
Merkel set for fourth term after German SPD back coalition
Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) voted to join Chancellor Angela Merkel’s next government, clearing the way to her fourth term and ending months of political uncertainty in Europe’s largest economy.
Two-thirds of SPD members approved the coalition pact on Sunday morning – a wider-than-expected margin – which means Ms Merkel could be re-inaugurated by mid-March, in a repeat of the “grand coalition” that has ruled since 2013.
The chancellor welcomed the outcome, saying the collaboration will be "for the good of Germany".
"I congratulate the SPD for the clear result and look forward to further cooperation for the good of Germany," according to a tweet attributed to her on her Christian Democrat party's Twitter account.
“We now have clarity,” interim SPD chairman Olaf Scholz told reporters. “The SPD will join the next government.”
While the impasse in Berlin hasn’t dented Germany’s economic boom, it’s held back policy making since Ms Merkel won a national election in September with her bloc’s worst result since 1949. That weakness, and the arrival of a far-right party in parliament, reflect a changing political landscape that almost derailed Ms Merkel’s bid to extend her 12 years in office.
The challenges are piling up for the chancellor, with Europe looking to her for leadership on a host of economic and security issues.
“Let’s get to work - Germany and Europe,” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, tweeted seconds after the announcement.
With a resumption of the coalition government now assured, the SPD’s pick for finance minister will be among the most-watched decisions ahead. Mr Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg and a centrist Social Democrat, is viewed as the frontrunner for a post the party wrested from Ms Merkel in the coalition deal sealed in February. The Social Democrats plan to unveil their cabinet nominations on March 12.
Fending off a youthful grassroots revolt against staying in government allows the SPD to serve as Ms Merkel’s junior partner for the third time in the grand coalition of Germany’s two biggest parties. It’s a sign that the political centre, while diminished, is holding after the longest coalition-building talks since World War II.
Kevin Kuehnert, head of the SPD's youth wing, said he was disappointed but that the "Jusos" (youth wing) would keep up their criticism, signalling that, after bringing in a flood of new members, they would be a thorn in the leadership's side.
"Criticism of the grand coalition remains. The SPD needs to be more like it has been in recent weeks and less like it has been in recent years - the Jusos will ensure this," he tweeted.
The outcome means the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) will be the largest parliamentary opposition party. In a tweet, they labelled the SPD's decision a "catastrophe" for Germany, promising fierce opposition over the coming four years.
Ms Merkel, reduced to acting chancellor for months, has said she’ll serve a full term until the next scheduled election in 2021. Even so, she has begun preparing the CDU for her eventual departure.
German business greeted with relief the news that the country would get a government after its longest-ever post-election interregnum.
"While the United States are starting a trade war and China is challenge our industrial leadership, we have been unnecessarily self-absorbed," engineering trade union VDMA's managing director Thilo Brodtmann said.
The SPD was forced to revisit its original plan to go into opposition after the failure of Ms Merkel's initial attempt to form a coalition with two smaller parties.
With her conservatives, they thrashed out a coalition agreement which SPD leaders hailed for its commitments to strengthening the EU and giving them key government roles.