Sunday, September 29, 2013

The SPD's Totentanz with Angela Merkel's CDU

One very good thing has come from Angela Merkel's election victory on September 22. SPD Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück has resigned his Party leadership posts. He has for years been part of a leading triumvirate in the SPD consisting of himself, Party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel and SPD Bundestag caucus (Fraktion) chair Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

They have a pretty sad record as the collective leadership of their Party. But Gabriel will be in charge of the negotiations over a possible Grand Coalition with Angela Merkel's CDU. And he seems to be the most sensible of the three, though that's a distinctly modest complement. It's past time for both Steinbrück and Steinmeier to blow off into the dust cloud of history. And if Gabriel messes up the Grand Coalition negotiations - and by messing up I mean agreeing to one - he may have the dubious distinction of putting the SPD on the immediate road to a third-place party.

This dpa/Leipziger Volkszeitung piece, Große Koalition: SPD-Führung empfiehlt Gespräche mit der Union 27.09.2013, spells out some of the strategic calculations that SPD leaders around the country are making:

Die SPD fürchtet, in einer großen Koalition Profil zu verlieren und sich zu wenig durchzusetzen. Besonders die Ministerpräsidentin von Nordrhein-Westfalen, Hannelore Kraft, sieht ein solches Bündnis skeptisch. Sie will sich aber Gesprächen nicht verweigern. Es gibt Sorge um einen Erfolg der SPD bei Kommunalwahlen in zehn Ländern am 25. Mai, falls es zu einer großen Koalition komme.

SPD-Vorstandsmitglied Ralf Stegner hält einen Mitgliederentscheid über eine große Koalition für den richtigen Weg. „Wenn wir am Ende etwas machen, was wir nicht wollen, aber müssen, geht es gar nicht anders“, sagte er der dpa. „Das ist Chance und Risiko zugleich“, so Stegner mit Blick auf eine Ablehnung. „Aber die Basta-Zeiten sind vorbei. Das war ein Teil unserer Probleme in der Vergangenheit.“

Die Frage sei in der Partei so umstritten, dass größtmögliche Geschlossenheit gebraucht werde. Es gelte den von Gabriel eingeschlagenen Weg von mehr Mitbestimmung weiterzugehen. Zugleich stärke ein Entscheid oder eine Befragung die SPD-Verhandlungsführer in Gesprächen mit der Union. „Die CDU wird uns nicht zum Discount-Preis bekommen“, betonte Schleswig-Holsteins SPD-Landeschef. Entscheidend für eine große Koalition sei ein substanzieller Politikwechsel.

[The SPD fears that it would lose its profile and achieve too little. Especially the Minister-President {Governor} of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, view such an alliance skeptically. But she will not reject discussions {with the CDU}. There is concern about the success of the SPD in local elections in 10 states on May 25 if it should come to a Grand Coalition.

SPD Board Member Ralf Stegner holds a decision to be a member of a Grand Coalition for the correct path. "If we in the end do something that we don't want to do, but must, then that's how it has to be," he told dpa. "That is a chance and a risk at the same time," so said Stegner in view of a decision against it. "But the 'no-more' times are over. That was a part of our problems in the past."

The issue is so controversial within the Party that the greatest possible determination will be needed. That means going farther along the way proposed by Gabriel for a membership vote. At the same time, a decision or a poll of the membership would strengthened the SPD negotiation leaders in talks with the Union {CDU/CSU}. "The CDU will not get us at a discount price," declares Schleswig-Holstein's SPD state chief {Stegner}. He says a substantial change of policy would be decisive for a Grand Coalition.
Ralf Stegner there comes off like a stereotypical party hack. But he has also called for more openness in the SPD to cooperation with the Left Party - but in the future, not now. (Jakob Mayr, "Angela Merkel - eine Königin ohne Land" Radio Bayern 25.09.2013)

After the SPD Party meeting that took place on Friday, Stegner sounded a bit sobered: "Zugleich war den ganzen Abend über deutlich zu spüren, dass die Neigung, in eine Große Koalition einzutreten, bei der SPD sehr, sehr gering ist. Eigentlich will das niemand." ["At the same time it was clear to see the whole evening that the inclination to enter into a Grand Coalition is very, very small in the SPD. Actually, nobody wants to do it."] (Große Koalition oder Neuwahlen: "Die SPD ist eine mutige Partei" n-tv 28.09.2013)

Unfortunately, when the SPD leaders talk about making policy changes, they don't talk about putting a definitive end to Merkel's austerity policies in the eurozone. And that the elephant in the room. Merkel won't give up her austerity policies. And maintaining them will wreck the euro, with dramatically negative economic repercussions in Germany. And it's not only very bad for Europe. It will burn any party that supports Merkel's euro austerity policies.

Oh, yeah. The Italian government may soon fall and new elections have to take place. (Catherine Hornby and Antonella Cinelli, Silvio Berlusconi shatters Italian government coalition Reuters/Christian Science Monitor 09/28/2013)

From that viewpoint, every minute the SPD spends talking to Merkel about being an obedient Grand Coalition junior partner and not working on building a majority coalition with the Greens and Left Party is essentially a waste of time. And, for the SPD, almost surely a politically self-destructive one.

Left Party Bundestag caucus leader Gregor Gysi mocks the SPD for wanting a "permanent marriage" with Merkel's CDU. (Dietmar Riemer, Die Angst der SPD vor der Großen Koalition Radio Bayern 25.09.2013) Party Chair Bernd Riexinger warns the SPD, „Es wäre ein großer Fehler, wenn sich die SPD nur auf Sondierungen mit der Union beschränken würde. ... Die Führung hat die Basis überrumpelt. Ein Mitgliederentscheid ohne Alternativen ist eine Farce.“ ("It would be a big mistake if the SPD restricts itself only to talks with the Union. ... The leadership has rolled over the base. A decision on {Grand Coalition} membership without alternatives is a farce.") („SPD-Mitgliederentscheid ohne Alternativen ist eine Farce“ Handelsblatt Online/dne 29.09.2013)

The Left Party has proposed that the SPD and the Greens jointly sponsor a national minimum wage law in the new Bundestag. (No, Germany does not have a national minimum-wage law; it was a surprise to me to when I recently found that out.) Without the details of the Parliamentary procedures, this is a political pitch to increase the base pressure on both the SPD and the Greens to actively cooperate with the Left Party on the national level. The SPD and Greens still largely treat the Left as a pariah party, which is plainly ridiculous in the current situation. The real goal is to have the Greens and the Left agree on a Social Democratic Chancellor selection to build a red-red-green (SPD-Left-Green) coalition. The Chair of the Berlin SPD is calling for closer cooperation with the Left Party. (»Wir sollten nicht jetzt schon unsere Positionen räumen« Neues Deutschland 30.09.2013)

BTW, my unsolicited and surely unwanted advice to the Left Party: you really need to somehow step up the game at the Neues Deutschland website with an opportunity like the current one in front of you. Because right now it kinda sucks. You can get better news about the Left Party from Handelsblatt or Die Welt right now than from Neues Deutschland.

The CDU/CSU shows clear signs of being scared of the red-red-green option, even though the SPD hasn't publicly shown the gumption to pursue it so far. The main "bad cop" for Merkel in the coalition negotiations, Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, is demanding that the SPD not give their base membership a choice over the Grand Coalition choice. (Regierungsbildung: Seehofer wettert gegen SPD-Basisvotum zu Großer Koalition Spiegel Online 28.09.2013) Saxony's Minister-President Stanislaw Tillich (CDU) is lecturing the SPD to being modest in their coalition demands. (Koalitionsverhandlungen: Tillich rät SPD vor Sondierungsgesprächen zur Demut Leipziger Volkszeitung/dpa 29.09.2013) I guess we should give him credit for being willing to bluff. Despite her clear plurality in the election, Angela Merkel and the CDU/CSU desperately need a coalition with the SPD. They need to be able to share a big portion of the blame for new outbreaks in the euro crisis. And the cold political logic would say the SPD should make a coalition with the Left and the Greens, not with Merkel. The CDU needs the Grand Coalition a lot more than the SPD does. A lot more.

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