Schaeuble Seen Holding German Finance Post as SPD Chiefs Concede

German Social Democrats pressing to gain control of the Finance Ministry in Angela Merkel’s next government consider the battle to be lost, two party officials with knowledge of the matter said.

The SPD leadership has given up on taking the ministry, the officials said on condition of anonymity because cabinet posts have yet to be made public. That effectively cedes the finance post to Wolfgang Schaeuble as he has the backing of Merkel’s Christian Democrats to stay in the job. SPD spokesman Tobias Duenow declined to comment when contacted by phone in Berlin.

Jockeying over ministerial jobs is only now emerging as SPD leaders step up their campaign to govern with Merkel on the basis of a joint platform published Nov. 27. With a ballot of SPD members under way that could yet sink the coalition deal, Merkel and SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel have said they’ll announce cabinet posts after the result is known on Dec. 14 or Dec. 15.

“We will get broad support,” Gabriel said in an interview with ZDF television broadcast late yesterday, citing “a great deal” of grass-roots support for the so-called grand coalition. The Finance Ministry is “one of the most important” government departments, he said. “But whether we take it and, if we do, with whom -- we’ll decide that when this matter has been decided within the SPD.”

Nine days before the deadline for 475,000 SPD members to vote on the coalition pact with Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc, SPD officials are touring the country to sell the deal as polls suggest the party membership is warming to the idea. Three surveys published Dec. 1 suggest that at least 70 percent of SPD voters back the accord.

‘A Lot More’

“Many members are concluding that we won a lot more concessions than expected” in the coalition talks, Florian Pronold, a member of the SPD’s national executive board, said yesterday in a phone interview. He predicted “unequivocal support” for the policy blueprint the two sides concluded.

National SPD leaders are addressing at least 23 regional chapter meetings this week to lobby party activists and dispel misgivings about serving as Merkel’s junior partner for a second time since 2005, according to the party’s website. That compares with nine last week. Gabriel is due to speak to SPD members in Hamburg at about 7:30 p.m. today.

A key selling point is Merkel’s pledge to phase in an hourly minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.50) as demanded by the SPD during this summer’s election campaign. Concessions to the SPD also include allowing some workers to retire early with full benefits at age 63, down from 67.

Policies vs Personnel

Merkel said last week that she has discussed cabinet posts with the SPD leader. Both she and Gabriel say they won’t talk about jobs so that the referendum focuses on policies and not personnel. Der Spiegel reported this week that the party leaders have decided on the cabinet make-up.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the former SPD foreign minister in Merkel’s first term whom Spiegel says is likely to return to the same post, signaled that Schaeuble might be staying in his job. While “we don’t yet know precisely” the distribution of top jobs, “it’s completely clear the Union party would want to fight to retain the finance portfolio,” he said in a Dec. 1 interview with Deutschlandfunk radio.

The Social Democrat ballot is extending uncertainty about the leadership of Europe’s biggest economy, 10 weeks after Merkel defeated the SPD in elections and claimed a third-term mandate. Ballots have to reach SPD headquarters in Berlin by midnight Dec. 12 and the party plans to present the result by Dec. 15.

Opinion Polls

Seventy-five percent of SPD supporters favor ratifying the deal with Merkel’s bloc and 18 percent are opposed, according to an Infratest poll for ARD television published Dec. 1. The Nov. 28-30 poll of 1,000 people has a margin of error of as many as 3.1 percentage points.

The coalition was backed by 78 percent of SPD supporters in a Nov. 27-28 Forsa poll of 1,001 people for the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, which gave no margin of error. Neither poll specified whether the SPD supporters surveyed were party members.

SPD membership surged during the buildup to the party ballot. About 2,500 people joined in October, compared with a monthly average of 1,000, according to the SPD’s media service in Berlin. Another 1,772 joined through Nov. 13, the cutoff date for eligibility to vote on the coalition contract.

At least 20 percent of SPD members have to participate for the ballot to be valid. A “no” vote would force Merkel to court the Greens party for an unprecedented national alliance or call fresh elections. It would return the SPD to opposition to build toward the next election in 2017.

“There’s a lot of activity in the days ahead,” Pronold said. “We’re going to fight for every vote.”