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German SPD Faces Down Grassroots Revolt at Merkel Tie-Up

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
The SPD will put whatever coalition deal is agreed to a ballot of its 470,000-strong membership next month, handing the rank and file the chance to derail German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to have a government by Christmas. Photographer: Thierry Charlier/AFP via Getty Images

German Social Democratic Party delegates vented their anger at the SPD leadership in a series of ballots for senior posts that revealed grassroots opposition to coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Sixteen members of the SPD’s 30-strong national executive were rejected in a first round of voting at a party convention in Leipzig yesterday. In a separate gauge of party sentiment, six of seven party leaders, including SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel, were re-elected to their positions with lower scores than in 2011. The conference concludes today.

Andrea Nahles, the SPD general secretary, said the results show that the party will have to work harder to win concessions from Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc in negotiations due to conclude at the end of this month. Many in the party have yet to see results that would justify going into government with Merkel after their Sept. 22 election defeat, she said.

“The results show the displeasure with the party leadership,” Nahles said in an interview in Leipzig. They “fit the SPD’s overall mood,” she said.

Nahles, who was re-elected with about 67 percent of delegate votes after taking 73 percent in 2011, said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome. “We’ve got no results to show so far” from the coalition talks, she said. “We must negotiate even harder.”

The results, which were greeted with audible intakes of breath from the audience as they were read out on the podium, underscore the challenge facing the SPD leadership as it attempts to wring sufficient policy concessions from Merkel to sway its members to support a so-called grand coalition.

Beck’s Forecast

The SPD will put whatever coalition deal is agreed to a ballot of its 470,000-strong membership next month, handing the rank and file the chance to derail Merkel’s plan to have a government by Christmas.

Kurt Beck, a former SPD chairman who governed the wine-growing region of Rhineland-Palatinate as prime minister for 19 years until stepping down this year, said that he expects the coalition contract to pass so long as it includes a commitment to introduce a national minimum wage and to bolster financing for Germany’s local communities.

Beck said that he sees about 70 percent of SPD members voting in favor of a repeat of the grand coalition during Merkel’s first term from 2005 to 2009. Beck’s comments in an interview in Leipzig are the first forecast of the ballot outcome.

“I see a shift from fundamental opposition to a grand coalition toward an examination of the content of the contract,” said Beck. “Without a minimum wage there will be no coalition. But local financing shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s a very important topic” for grassroots members, he said.

SPD delegates are meeting in Leipzig, where the Social Democratic movement was inaugurated 150 years ago this year, to pick over September’s election in which they took 25.7 percent to 41.5 percent for Merkel’s bloc. That was the SPD’s second-worst result since World War II. The worst was in 2009, after four years of coalition with Merkel.

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