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Friday, August 09, 2013

German election update: Would the SPD rather stay in opposition than become Merkel's "lackeys" again?

Given that August is traditionally been a slow news month, we thought we'd revive an old Open Europe tradition - German poll Fridays (we know you're excited!). Its worth remembering we are only 6 weeks away from elections in Germany which will to a large extent determine developments in the eurozone and in the push for EU reform. So where are we at? Well the polls have been remarkably stable for the past few months with minimal fluctuations:

Source: Forsa (other polls display a similar trend)
While the result above would deliver a small majority for Angela Merkel's current conservative/liberal coalition, a couple of percentage points could deprive them of that. However, an alternative coalition of SDP/Greens would also be unlikely to have sufficient seats to govern, and a potential Rot-Rot-Grün (SPD-Greens-Linke) coalition has been ruled out by both sides as unappealing and unworkable.

Here's another consideration: what if the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition wins but ends up with a very narrow majority, meaning the government may not be able to pass contentious eurozone related legislation without support from the opposition due to rebels in its own ranks?

Both these factors increase the likelihood of another CDU/CSU and SPD 'grand coalition', like under Merkel's first Chancellorship between 2005 and 2009.  Although that government - in which the SPD's current Chancellor Peer Steinbrück served as Finance Minister - is credited with successfully navigating through the initial economic crisis, the SDP's poll ratings have never recovered, while Merkel's CDU has gone from strength to strength.

As a result, Steinbrück has ruled out another grand coalition, claiming that:
"The SPD's inclination to enter into a Grand Coalition is pretty much zero. Why should we once again be Merkel’s lackeys?"
Of course the fact that Steinbrück himself would not serve under Merkel again does not preclude a grand coalition with someone else from the party serving as Merkel's deputy. However, antipathy to this idea is widespread throughout the SPD, due to fears it would be unable to implement many of its policies and sink even lower in the polls (although ironically the party has also accused Merkel of stealing all its best policies for the CDU).

This is hardly a story of unrequited love - the CDU/CSU are also not keen on the idea, believing that such a coalition would be unstable as the SPD would be waiting for the appropriate time to bring down the government with the votes of the other left-wing parties before calling new elections, with Merkel unlikely to stand a fourth time, and with other credible CDU 'spitzenkandidaten' thin on the ground.

Either way, if the polls remain stable over the next few weeks and are an accurate reflection of the final results, we could be in for some interesting coalition talks.

As usual, we recommend you follow us on Twitter @OpenEurope, @pswidlicki, @NinaDSchick and @matsJpersson for all the updates from Berlin over the coming weeks.


Rik said...

Looks now that CDU/CSU/FDP will get a small majority.

Europe is unlikley to cause problem and even if it did SPD is more pro bail out than CDU and that is hardly popular even with its own voters. So unlikely to have a big effect.
NSA. SPD were so moronic to attack Merkel on it, while the guy who approved alot of things is one of their own troika. Also hard to see this becoming a negative for Merkel (she already made her usual u-turn).

Main issue probably if FDP gets over the 5% or not. Linke hard to see not to. AfD and Pirats who both missed the NSA chance unlikely to get over it.

FDP therefor the main open question. If they get >5% Merkel keeps her majority. The most likley thing. Unlikley that traditional FDP voters will use this as a yellow (or red) card moment. They would run the chance to tank their own party and considerably increase the chance to get lefties in government.

If FDP doesnot return Merkel will lose her majority. With as most likely option a CDU/CSU/SPD government.

With a majority hard to see that she would go for a Grand Coalition.
Present set up is unstable on Europe but more important is not sent home (or even remotely) because of it and was always assisted by SPD/Greens.
Continuing as is will give her simply more room to go for her own agenda with not a more unstable set up. It is unstable in a different way than a Grand Coalition. Overall however imho probably more stable than a Grand Coalition. FDP cannot easily run away or they might be tanked completely in a next election (much higher downside risk). Which is not a problem for the SPD.

On Europe. I donot think Merkel finds the opposition on bail outs that unconvenient.
She likes of course her deals approved. Although she probably is happy the bankunion deal was torpedoed.
But she certainly likes being able to hide behind a parliament and CCourt that makes doing a lot of concessions a no go. She simply gets better negotiation results because of that.
Hard to see she favours things like bail outs and tranfer unions. She is mainly afraid for the consequences when the thing would fall apart.
From there being able to do it at as low as possible costs will be her main priority. And a difficult parliament is simply helpful in that.

andreasmoser said...

Steinbrück can't rule nothing out for the SPD because he already said clearly that he won't serve as minister under Mrs Merkel. That means if CDU and CSU together will win more seats than the SPD (which is a certainty), Steinbrück is out of the picture. He is a lame duck already.

The SPD will of course join a grand coalition government, because (1) the voters want it and (2) it means lots of jobs, offices and cars for SPD politicians. If you can be minister or deputy minister for 4 years, you'll prefer that over being an opposition parliamentarian.

paulpet said...

Amazing how futile and shortlived party opinions stay in a coalition. Two oposing parties as CDU/CSU and SPD will in such a coalition betray their voters soon, as was the case in the Netherlands, where liberal-conservatives and social-democrates lost 2/3 of their voters in the polls nine months after the stablishment of their collaboration.

Rik said...

But if Germany would get a Grand Coalition' that would not happen overthere. There is simply no real alternative for voters of both SPD and CDU/CSU.

SPD: Linke are seen as a bunch of weirdos by a loy of people. Mentioning the fact that a red-red-green coalition could occur might cost SPD even a lot of votes from traditionals. Greens: very similar as SPD and rubbish faces but with alternative energy (hardly popular now the bill is coming and leadership with orange hair).
CDU: FDP is in a combined leadership and positioning crisis and look unable to solve that. Combined with a chance that they do not make the 5%.
AfD unable to put itself really on the map. Maybe it could with the EP election next year, but the next real election is 2017 probably. Will they make that.

Both SPD and CDU however have a future leadership crisis in them. SPD should get rid of Steinbruck the guy is simply a joke. And CDU needs succession for after Merkel. And nobody is really there for it and Merkel is pretty poor in making some people ready for that job.

Of course there is something seriously wrong with the 'system' in Germany. No anti-bail out party in parliament with probably 40% or more of the population of that opinion while the Euro stuff is next to the economy the most important issue.
But FDP let the possibility to be that slip and AfD is not appealing. Break up CDU-CSU looks also unlikely.

But what it does is laying the foundation for another attempt too get a populist party from the ground. You simply Need one Grillo, one Farage or one Wilders to pull that off. And they would be so nice as AfD and definitely more appealing. Combined with leadership issues that could give an explosive mix. But likely a bit late to have real influence on the Euro-crisis.