Merkel Gets a Break as Partner Stays in Coalition, For Now
The face of Germany’s Chancellor and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel sits on the exterior glass panels of the party’s headquarters in Berlin, Germany (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)  

Merkel Gets a Break as Partner Stays in Coalition, For Now

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel won her rattled government some time as her junior coalition partner agreed to remain on board for the time being despite the turbulent resignation of its chief.

"We remain true to the coalition agreement," said Malu Dreyer, prime minister of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and one of three regional party leaders who will steer the Social Democrats until a new leader is elected at a convention expected for mid-October.

Merkel Gets a Break as Partner Stays in Coalition, For Now

SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil reinforced that commitment Tuesday, insisting that the party will honor the accord they struck last year with Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc.

“The issue of a change in the SPD leadership has no impact on the coalition,” Klingbeil told Deutschlandfunk radio, while warning that Merkel must deliver on issues like pensions and climate change if the government is to survive.

“What will decide if this coalition works is whether we make progress on policy, whether the coalition accord is enacted,” he said.

The departure of Andrea Nahles as the head of the SPD on Sunday was triggered by the party’s poor results in European elections and shook Germany’s political class. An SPD exit would force Merkel to govern with a minority government, seek new allies, or call snap elections. While that scenario is less likely for the time being, it hasn’t gone away, said Ulrich Sarcinelli, a political scientist at the University of Koblenz-Landau.

"One cannot rule out anymore that there will be a blowup at some point," Sarcinelli said in a phone interview. "Both the Christian Democrats and the SPD know very well that they would lose seats in new elections right now, so it’s quite possible this grand coalition will die a very slow and painful death."

The SPD has seen its support slump sharply in recent polls. In the May European election, its support nearly halved to 15.8%, while the party lost its traditional stronghold of Bremen in a regional vote the same day.

Asked whether there was reason for concern with the new SPD triumvirate, Merkel said Monday that all three were familiar to her and had signed the coalition agreement.

"I don’t get the impression that this is a sign of instability, it’s rather a process of the SPD finding itself," Merkel said. Peter Altmaier, Economy Minister and a close ally of the chancellor, said Tuesday that Germany needs to play an active role in addressing global issues like trade and should not be distracted by a new election or internal party debates.

The leader of Merkel’s party also signaled she intends to ride out the latest crisis and is keen to push ahead with the administration’s agenda.

“There are good reasons not to abandon the government frivolously,” CDU chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said Monday.

Yet while both sides sought to downplay the risk of rupture, the issue will remain on the table in coming weeks. By June 24, the SPD wants to lay out a road map as to how and when a new leadership will be elected and whether the party decides to remain in the coalition. Certain to impact party sentiment will be results from elections in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony in early September.

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who has ruled out running for the party’s top job, said the review of the coalition contract later in the year is not a small matter and should be put to the rank-and-file party members.

None of the three members of the SPD triumvirate -- Dreyer, Manuela Schwesig, premier in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel, SPD head in Hesse -- intend to bid for the party’s top job, while Klingbeil told DLF he had “enough to do” in his current role.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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