How will another GroKo affect SPD, Merkel, Germany, EU?

How do you read the results of SPD referendum, what do they mean for SPD, Germany and Europe? Read few comments.

Pepijn Bergsen, Europe Analyst, Economist Intelligence Unit

The SPD members voting in favour of the coalition agreement between the CDU/CSU and the SPD means that a new government is likely to be in place within the next two weeks. This will end a prolonged period of political uncertainty for both Germany and the EU.

German politics will nevertheless remain less stable and predictable under the new government. The SPD’s identity crisis has not been solved by this result and it will try to use this term to distinguish itself more clearly from Ms Merkel’s CDU, possibly leading to increased confrontation within the coalition. Furthermore, the CDU itself will be preoccupied by the leadership succession question as this will be Ms Merkel’s last term. Furthermore, this agreement has made the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) the main opposition party, which is likely to lead to a much more pronounced political debate, both inside the Bundestag and outside.

Big changes in the direction of policy are unlikely under the new grand coalition, with the parties largely concerned with how to spend some of sizeable surplus, which came to just over 1% of GDP last year.

The new government could be more important for Europe than for the domestic economy as without this agreement it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to get any meaningful reform done in the coming months. In the coalition agreement the parties professed themselves willing to go along with Emmanuel Macron’s push for EU and euro zone reform. However, we would caution against too much optimism on especially the latter as the coalition agreement clearly hedged its enthusiasm and is the new government is unlikely to drop traditional German red lines on increased risk sharing and fiscal rectitude.

Eric Langenbacher, Teaching Professor, Department of Government , Georgetown University

To be honest this outcome surprised me a little bit. Almost everyone was saying it would be very close and that the “nos” might have won. I did not expect fully 2/3 of the members to endorse the coalition deal. In any case, after almost 6 months of uncertainty, it is a relief that a government is in place. Now all of the challenges that have accumulated can be tackled–Brexit, Macron’s EU reform proposals, Trump’s tariffs, etc. This also gives the mainstream parties 3 1/2 years to re-profile themselves and to try to find ways to combat the AfD. Merkel once again revealed her tactical brilliance, but it is also crucial for the overall health of the political systems for her to stand aside soon. I give her 2 years.

Kai ArzheimerProfessor of Political Science, University of Mainz

First, the 2:1 result shows that a solid majority of the rank-and-file would rather see the SPD in government, even if they might have wished for a different coalition. That is the first bit of good news in a long time for the leadership and bodes well for the stability of the coalition.

Beyond this vote, the leadership and the party at large will have to think about what Social Democracy stands for. I’m less optimistic about the outcome of this process. The SPD has spent considerable time and energy on soul-searching, but like social democratic parties elsewhere, it remains wedged between new-ish leftist parties on the one hand, and centre and radical right parties on the other.

For Germany and Europe, this means above all stability. The last Grand Coalition has worked reasonably well together, and I expect the same from its latest iteration. What I don’t expect are great, visionary initiatives, but then again, I might be mistaken, and change has a habit of happening, whether politicians called for it or not.

Matthias Dilling, Lecturer in Politics, Pembroke College, University of Oxford

First of all, the results mean that Angela Merkel will remain chancellor for a fourth consecutive term and again lead a Grand Coalition (like between 2005-2009 and 2013-2017). Federal President Steinmeier will suggest the Bundestag to elect Angela Merkel as chancellor and CDU/CSU and SPD agreed that Merkel’s election in parliament will take place on 14 March. It is considered certain that she will get the required absolute majority already in the first round of voting.

Her election will put an end to the longest period of government formation in German post-war history. For both Germany and Europe, this will mean an end of a period of uncertainty. Although both the Christian and Social Democrats have lost quite markedly in the 2017 election, they still have a clear majority (399 of 709 seats). This will allow them to realize their domestic agenda but also to be a reliable partner at the European level. In contrast to 2013-2017, the Grand Coalition, however, will not have a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag. This means that CDU/CSU and SPD will require votes from other parties if they want to initiate constitutional changes. In general, we will see a more present and stronger opposition in the next Bundestag which I consider good for German democracy and essential to stop the rise of the radical right.

The vote of the SPD members in favor of another Grand Coalition, finally, is also good for the SPD itself. If the SPD members had voted against a Grand Coalition, the party’s internal reform process would have taken a serious blow since Andrea Nahles would not have been able to become party leader and the party would have faced a quite uncertain future. This would have been particularly the case since a vote against the Grand Coalition would have made new federal elections quite likely. If there had been new elections, the SPD would have likely been the party that would have lost most markedly as the trend in the polls has indicated. In sum, the debate around whether the SPD should enter another Grand Coalition or not has stimulated a needed process of political reform within the SPD without, however, leading to an outcome that would have prolonged the period of uncertainty for the SPD, Germany and Europe.

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