May 16, 2017
After the debacle
We thought the FAZ nailed it this morning when it said that the question is not why the SPD crashed within a period of a few weeks, but why it rose in the first place. The answer they gave is lack of programmatic content - and there is little sign of change. The party is obviously unprepared for the election. It should perhaps not come as a surprise. Martin Schulz claimed after the latest defeat that he was a street fighter - but we all know this is not true. Schulz is a very typical representatives of politics the way it is conducted in Brussels - behind the scenes, consensus-driven, non-ideological. The contrast to Emmanuel Macron could not be starker. Schulz holds many strong views, but he is not ideas-driven or policy-driven. And we are not even sure whether he has a gut instinct of what the German voters truly want. He has not met many of them in his political life.
Schulz yesterday came out with three announcements: the first is that the three themes of his election campaign are going to be social justice (no SPD campaign can be without it), innovation, and Europe. But there is no substance behind any of that - and no concrete decisions. Even yesterday, after the defeat in Northrhein Westfalia, the SPD executive committee was not able to produce any concrete content. We like the idea of innovation, something Germany is badly lacking, but then Schulz mentions more investment in infrastructure and education. This is telling us that there is no strategic concept behind the slogan.
The second pronouncement is that he will run a campaign directed personally against Angela Merkel. As FAZ points out, senior colleagues advised against that. Merkel is not only popular: the areas of differences are too small for such a campaign to bear fruit. Merkel's embrace of Macron and his agenda tells us that there won’t be a tactical alliance of Macron and Schulz against Merkel. Macron is too smart to align himself with a party that is likely to lose the next elections. And Merkel said that the CDU, too, will be emphasising innovation. And she added, for good measure, that social justice was important to her, too.
The third pronouncement is that he will accept a grand coalition under his own leadership. This is important in one respect. By not excluding another grand coalition, the SPD is now clearly moving away from the one other option - that is now receding in probability - a red, red, green coalition. Events can still intrude, but such a dramatic shift in coalition preference would require, at the outset, at least some joint programmatic work. This has not happened, and now it won’t happen. The astonishing electoral weakness of the Greens is now becoming another factor.
The best strategy for Schulz, in our view, would be to put some deep thinking into innovation, and to expose those parts in the Macron agenda that Wolfgang Schäuble disagrees with most vehemently. He should exploit the division within the CDU. And he should promise maximal use of Germany's fiscal capacity for investments, as allowed under the constitutional balanced-budget rule.