German SPD Seen by Merkel Party Leader Turning to Left

A leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said the opposition Social Democrats, who are slumping in the polls, may break their word and team up with the former East German communists in a bid to regain power.

“If it comes to a crunch, there are strong forces in the SPD that would want to go this way,” Saarland state Prime Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a member of the executive committee of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, said in an interview in Saarbruecken.

It’s the first time a top CDU official has raised the specter of an SPD coalition with the anti-capitalist Left Party in such a manner in campaigning for the Sept. 22 general election. For the CDU, stoking voter concerns about a tie-up helps appeal to undecided voters, even though the SPD candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrueck, has said he won’t ally with the post-communists.

Such tactics have been a CDU campaign staple since the 1990 reunification. Chancellor Helmut Kohl called the Left “red-painted fascists” and one CDU campaign dubbed them the “red socks.” This backfired when the Left adopted the slogan: “Red socks. Warm feet.”

Steinbrueck, who was Merkel’s finance minister in a CDU-SPD grand coalition from 2005 to 2009, also rules out any rerun of such an alliance and says his party wants to govern with the Greens. Polls haven’t shown a majority for an SPD-Greens government since 2011. Adding in the Left would yield an SPD-Greens-Left majority, according to three of the latest six major opinion polls.

‘Bad Experience’

“The SPD will do everything possible to prevent a grand coalition,” Kramp-Karrenbauer, 50, said in a May 16 interview in her office in the capital of the Saarland, which borders France and Luxembourg. “The SPD had a bad experience with the grand coalition and will therefore give preference to every other political constellation.”

After serving under Merkel, the SPD plunged to its worst election result since World War II, taking 23 percent of the vote in the 2009 elections compared with 33.8 percent for Merkel’s party.

CDU Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking in a BR Bavarian television interview May 21, said if push comes to shove, the SPD and Greens would rely on Left votes in policy related to the euro.

All of Germany’s six leading polls show no majority for Merkel’s current coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party. The polls indicate majorities for two coalitions that Steinbrueck says he won’t participate in: Merkel’s CDU with his SPD and an SPD-Greens-Left alliance. A CDU tie-up with the Greens is also mathematically possible.

Brandenburg Model

Kramp-Karrenbauer said SPD-Left coalitions that have operated at the state level in Germany will be a model for Steinbrueck’s party after the federal vote. The SPD currently rules in Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, with the Left Party, which is the direct successor to the East German communists who built the Berlin Wall and ruled the defunct eastern-bloc state from 1949 until 1990, shortly before reunification.

There have also been SPD-Left governments in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin itself since 1990, as well as SPD-Greens minority governments backed by the Left in Saxony-Anhalt in the east and the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, in the west.

Defector Lafontaine

The fact that former SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine, an ex-finance minister, isn’t running for a Left Party seat in the Bundestag, the federal parliament in Berlin, also clears a hurdle, Kramp-Karrenbauer said. Lafontaine, who’s from Saarland, quit the SPD in 2005 and joined the Left Party -- a move that outraged other SPD leaders. Forming any federal alliance including Lafontaine would have been tough to stomach for many in the SPD.

“With the departure of Oskar Lafontaine, the biggest personnel obstacle has been removed at the national level,” she said. Lafontaine, who had surgery for cancer in 2009, was dubbed the “most dangerous man in Europe” by Britain’s Sun newspaper in 1998.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said it would be difficult for her CDU to form a national coalition again with the SPD even though she rules the Saarland -- whose population of just over 1 million makes it second least populous of Germany’s 16 states -- with the Social Democrats.

Leftward Shift

“Both the SPD and the Greens have moved very, very strongly to the left, and this means the biggest policy overlap is between the CDU and the FDP,” she said. Merkel has ruled in her second term since 2009 with a coalition of her CDU, its Bavarian Christian Social Union sister party and the Free Democrats.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said SPD and Green calls to raise income tax and inheritance tax and impose a levy on wealth will help the FDP increase its share of the centrist vote. Most polls show the FDP at 4 percent, below the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament under German election law. The FDP took 14.6 percent in 2009.

“The massive tax burden that would be hoisted on people and the Mittelstand under SPD and Greens’ plans is an area in which the FDP can really sharpen its profile,” she said, in a reference to the small and medium-sized companies that form the backbone of the German economy.

‘Simply Foreign’

Even tougher than forming any CDU-SPD federal government would be a CDU alliance with the Greens, Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “The Greens have lurched far to the left,” she said. “With regard to their policies and basic premises, both parties are simply foreign to each other.”

Kramp-Karrenbauer, a mother of three, self-described “book junkie” and an AC/DC fan, said the election will be decided on the euro crisis and won by the candidate “who represents Germany’s interests in Europe and the world with the truly necessary firmness.”

Merkel is the most popular politician in Germany, according to a survey published May 17 by polling company Forschungsgruppe Wahlen. Her tough line on euro-region austerity resonates with voters. Merkel has a big lead over the SPD’s Steinbrueck when voters were asked whom they preferred for chancellor, with 62 percent backing Merkel and 29 percent for Steinbrueck.

The Saarland premier said the euro crisis is where Merkel and the CDU excel by demanding there be no straying from the path of stability in Europe and in Germany.

Budget Discipline

“This means sticking to budget discipline and not seeking the easy way out through big tax increases in order to avoid cutting spending,” she said.

Steinbrueck has “no reliable basis” in his own party, which is calling into question the so-called Agenda 2010 reforms passed under the government of SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that was in power with the Greens from 1998 to 2005, the Saarland premier said.

These are “reforms that without a doubt contributed to Germany’s economic success,” said Kramp-Karrenbauer. “The fear is that even with the best intentions of Peer Steinbrueck as a person, when it comes to a crunch, that he’ll be left in the lurch by his own party.”

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