Germany's Ex-SPD Leader Sees Party Backing Merkel Alliance Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Former Social Democratic chairman Kurt Beck predicted a narrow victory for those in favor of coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the party needs to move forward and accept the responsibility of government.

Beck said he expects about 60 percent of delegates at a party convention on Sunday to back formal talks with Merkel’s party bloc, an outcome that would point the chancellor toward a fourth term and avoid throwing Germany’s political order into unprecedented turmoil. SPD chairman Martin Schulz’s convention speech is shaping up as critical.

“It will be a tough battle,” Beck, who heads an SPD-affiliated foundation, said in a phone interview. “Schulz has to appear honest and present an honest balance of the arguments. It’s our responsibility to join in creating a responsible government for Germany.”

As tension mounts ahead of the vote, Merkel’s allies are stepping up efforts to coax their reluctant partner into talks on a renewed alliance after the two sides agreed on policy blueprint last week. Almost four months after Germany’s inconclusive election in September, the alternatives are a new ballot or a minority government that Merkel is resisting.

Germany's Ex-SPD Leader Sees Party Backing Merkel Alliance Talks

Like many regional SPD premiers, lawmakers and labor leaders, Beck argued that the party can achieve more in government than in opposition. The party’s youth wing on Thursday reiterated its rejection of another stint in government.

Beck said last week’s framework deal contains “a lot of highlights” and is a springboard for pressing more SPD policy demands if talks with Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led bloc move into the next phase. “There are a lot of untapped possibilities,” he said.

Poll Slump

SPD leaders face grass-roots resistance to extending the “grand coalition” with Merkel after the party slumped to its worst defeat since World War II in the election. Support for the SPD declined 2 percentage points to 18 percent in a Forsa poll published Thursday, while Merkel’s bloc rose 1 point to 34 percent.

“I wish those Social Democrats who are in favor of the grand coalition good luck,” Volker Kauder, caucus chief for Merkel’s bloc in parliament, said Thursday on ZDF television. “They really don’t have an easy time until Sunday.”

Germany's Ex-SPD Leader Sees Party Backing Merkel Alliance Talks

After securing a 28-page draft in exploratory talks last week, Schulz is crisscrossing the country to shore up support. Bolstered by provisions that allow the parties to reassess the coalition after two years, there are signs that SPD members are prepared to accept the deal as the lesser evil. Even so, party officials are predicting a very tight vote amid a highly emotional debate about the SPD’s future direction.

Merkel’s Plea

Ralf Stegner, a deputy SPD leader, tweeted Thursday that while he’s “skeptical,” he supports coalition talks because of gains for workers and families in the preliminary agreement and because a failure to form a government could drag Germany to the right. Others are falling in line.

“I have spoken out for negotiations,” Matthias Miersch, leader of a caucus of left-leaning SPD members in parliament, told reporters Thursday in Berlin. “We should take this route so that every member can decide on the coalition agreement.”

‘Political Catastrophe’

The SPD’s more than 400,000 members would have the final say on any coalition pact negotiated by the two sides. That membership ballot looks like an easier hurdle than Sunday’s vote, according to Beck. “The way I see it, the rank-and-file members are more open-minded than the delegates” at the convention, he said.

A Merkel ally warned of dire consequences if her second attempt to put together a government fails. Her bid to enlist the Free Democrats and the Green party in a novel coalition collapsed in November.

“I can only appeal to everyone to pull themselves together and bring a government into being,” Horst Seehofer, head of Merkel’s Bavarian CSU sister party, said in an interview with Bild newspaper. Failed talks “would be a political catastrophe for our country.”

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