German SPD Chief Set to Sell Party on Merkel Coalition

Germany’s Social Democrats backed a motion that opens the way to a future alliance with the anti-capitalist Left Party, overturning a self-imposed ban on such coalitions.

The proposal was backed by members of the SPD leadership, who said their Sept. 22 election defeat by Chancellor Angela Merkel showed that it’s time to stop closing down options that could help the party to win power. SPD delegates voted through the motion at a party convention in Leipzig late yesterday.

“Ruling out a coalition with the Left Party in this legislative period wasn’t a question of principle but rather one of sheer pragmatism,” SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel told the conference in a speech. So long as the Left moves toward the SPD, “yes, we’re open to such coalitions,” he said.

Flirting with the heirs to the East German communists, who opposed euro-area rescues, is a gamble for Gabriel as he attempts to steer his party into government with Merkel. While previous deals with the Left at regional level cost the SPD support nationally, wielding the option during coalition negotiations may prise more concessions from Merkel by showing her that she can’t take the SPD for granted.

“Gabriel has very good instincts about what moves the party, and that’s clearly seen in how he’s cleverly opening up toward the Left,” Andrea Roemmele, a professor of political science and communication at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said by phone. It gives the party options for the next election in 2017, and “adds leverage in addressing his great challenge, which is to bring around a skeptical grass roots to support a grand coalition now,” she said.

Leipzig Foundation

Gabriel, a veteran of the SPD’s so-called grand coalition with Merkel’s bloc in her first term, from 2005 to 2009, used a speech to the 600 party delegates yesterday to warn his party not to throw away the chance of implementing its policies, saying that governing with Merkel is better than a return to opposition.

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

The SPD leadership was punished by delegates who re-elected them to their posts with reduced majorities. Gabriel had 83.6 percent of members’ ballots after 91.6 percent at the last vote in 2011, while General Secretary Andrea Nahles took 67.2 percent today, her poorest score to date.

The text of the motion voted on said that “in principle we don’t rule out any coalition for the future,” with the exception of “right-wing populists or extremist parties.”

The SPD conference will today debate a motion calling for “new trust in a better Europe.”

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