Monday, October 21, 2013

Hannelore Kraft and the road to a new Grand Coalition government in Germany

Steffen Hebestreit looks at one of the more significant moments in the process of the SPD moving toward a Grand Coalition government with German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel's CDU/CSU in Das verwirrende Kraft-Zentrum Frankfurter Rundschau 21.10.2013. That is the question of why Hannelore Kraft, the influential Minister-President (Governor) of the state (or province) of North Rhine-Westphalia NRW from the German initials) flipped from being the most prominent critic of a Grand Coalition to a supporter.

According to his report, he doesn't actually know, though he has his own speculation. She is the head of a red-green (SPD/Green Party) government in NRW, the most populous of the German states. If the national SPD is part of a Grand Coalition headed by Merkel at the national level, it could cause complications for her as the NRW head of government, having to make state-level policies conform to unpopular national policies backed by the national SPD as part of the Grand Coalition. There are important local elections coming up in May in NRW, which could be negatively affected by the SPD's role in the Grand Coalition. And Kraft's current role as the coordinator of the SPD majority in the parliamentary upper house would become somewhat eclipsed under a Grand Coalition.

Around a week ago, Kraft suddenly decided she was okay with a Grand Coalition. Hebestreit speculates that she realized that the alternative to a Grand Coalition would be new elections, in which the SPD would presumably lose more votes.

I'm not sure his speculation represents much more than lazy conventional wisdom that a Grand Coalition is inevitable, a conventional wisdom that fits well in this case with Frau Fritz' needs. In the September election, Merkel's CDU/CSU won the largest plurality. But the three parliamentary parliamentary parties considered left - the SPD, the Greens, abd the Left Party - together won a majority of the votes. If the German public just voted for a left majority just in September, why would a new election be expected to significantly change that result in Merkel's favor?

Though the party winning a plurality normally gets the first shot at building a government, there was a path to forming a left government instead. The SPD never considered it, rejecting any coalition with the Left Party out of hand, both before and after the election. Once the national SPD leadership and Merkel agreed to proceed with Grand Coalition negotiations and talks between the Greens and the CDU/CSU went nowhere, as expected, Kraft may have just decided to go with the flow. She may have gotten particular concessions on policies or appointments or what Americans call "pork barrel" projects, who knows?

Regardless of her motives, she had been seen as the most important anti-Grand Coalition leader in the SPD. With her agreement to it now, that significantly decreases the chances the Party base will vote against approving the coalition deal once it is formalized.

As Majid Sattar suggests in Das Wir entscheidet dann ja noch Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.10.2013, during a Grand Coalition the internal tensions are most likely to be generated on the left(-leaning) side by Hannelore Kraft and the SPD base in SPD, and on the left by the famously conservative CSU in Bavarian, led currently by Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, who recently won a major of the seats for his party in the Bavarian state parliament.

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