Can SPD escape Merkel’s long EU shadow?

The SPD supports the aid package for Greece which is understandable, but does the SPD  has any room to maneuver in the EU issues to look as the opposition party at least from time to time?


Christian SchweigerLecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

This is indeed quite a difficult issue for the SPD. On the one hand it needs and wants to point out the weaknesses of Merkel’s Eurozone crisis policy, on the other hand the party has to avoid looking like an opponent of supporting Greece financially. The candidate for the Chancellorship at next year’s election, Peer Steinbrück , has therefore emphasised that the SPD demands that Mrs Merkel tells the German taxpayers that some of the money Germany is putting into the ESFS/ESM rescue funds is unlikely to be paid back. He also emphasised the need to be honest about the fact that Greece is likely to need a lot more financial support in the future if Merkel wants to keep it in the Eurozone.

Steinbrück has indicated that he will make honesty about the nature of the Greek loans and the likely future costs for German taxpayers a central issue in his campaign and I think he will therefore continue to challenge Merkel on what long-term strategy she has for Greece.

I think this could work in the long run, particularly if the German economy deteriorates in the course of next year and Germany’s budget becomes increasingly stretched because of the involvement in the European loan mechanisms ESFS/ESM. I would then expect the German public to take a second look at Merkel’s European policy, which might lead to quite some decline in her popularity.

On the other hand the risk is that, if the economy remains stable and the Greek situation improves, Merkel would be able to portray Steinbrueck and the SPD as doom mongers. The problem for Steinbrück at the moment is that in the latest opinion polls 38 of Germans think that he has more economic competence (against 33 for Merkel) but only 25 per cent think that he is the best person to tackle the Eurozone crisis (against 42 per cent for Merkel). I still think that these figures could shift over the next six months.

Sebastian Bukow, Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Forschungsinformation und Qualitätsicherung

Dealing with strategic aspects I would say no, there is no real alternative for the SPD, they can’t say “No” right now. The problem is that SPD supports in general the EU-policy but not the politics of Angela Merkel. And due to that, they have to vote “Yes”. What SPD tries to do is arguing that they vote pro-Greece but not pro-chancellor Merkel. Sigmar Gabriel and other SPD frontrunners stated, that they are (of course) still pro-European and do not see any alternatives in EU-policy right now. What they criticize is that there’s a lack of long-time plans. What I’m not sure about is, if and to which extent the EU-crisis will be a campaigning issue in the next election. The issue is quite complex and troublesome for all established parties: They are all pro-European and might support non-European / populist parties by setting this topic on agenda. Finally the SPD has to be careful in these EU-votings because there still is the possibility of another grand coalition after the next federal election.

Ed Turner, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

There is strong public support for Chancellor Merkel.  The SPD could, I suppose, join populists the right against various bailouts, but to do so would seem opportunistic, as would joining populists on the left in a wholesale rejection of the Eurozone’s rules.

There are, however, two greater dilemmas.  One is the SPD’s line on Eurobonds (initially sympathetic but I think moving towards Merkel’s), and more generally whether it places a greater emphasis on growth than does Chancellor Merkel.  One frustration I occasionally hear amongst the centre-left in the UK is that the SPD is so fiscally cautious – a million miles away from President Obama’s, or the British Labour Party’s, critique of austerity and support for counter-cyclical spending to maintain growth.  In this sense, the SPD is being understandably cautious and responsive to German public opinion.


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