February 14, 2018
SPD nominates Nahles
It is interesting that not a single German commentator nowadays makes forecasts about the referendum of SPD members on the grand coalition. Monday’s disastrous poll - now repeated by another polling organisation - may concentrate minds among SPD members, and get them to pull back from the brink. We hear some anecdotal evidence from Bavaria that would point in that direction. Some will no doubt conclude that this is perhaps not the moment to hold another election. But, then again, with Andrea Nahles and Olaf Scholz the party’s old guard will resume power. Another four years of a grand coalition with this leadership duo could seal the fate of the party. These are genuine dilemmas, of which many members are aware.
The party’s executive committee met yesterday to nominate Nahles as the offical candidate for chairman, and to give Scholz the job of acting leader. This is seen by some as a setback for Nahles, but it was intended to defuse the criticism that a decision to give her the acting job now would create facts on the ground. We find the process somewhat pre-democratic. The leadership is shocked that somebody in the party dares to mount a competing bid for the leadership. And we also find it strange that political parties in Germany still feel the need to "organise the succession". You hear the same expression ("Nachfolge regeln") used in the CDU. In democracies party leaders don’t organise their successors. What normally happens is that candidates make a leadership bid, and the parties then vote between different candidates.
Of the six SPD deputies, Scholz has had the worst election result at the December party congress. Nahles is more popular than Scholz. She is the best orator the SPD has. Like Schulz, Scholz, and Sigmar Gabriel she is also a member of the Seeheimer Kreis, a group of conservative SPD politicians. As Jasper von Altenbockum writes, there is really no alternative to her right now, but her style is not fundamentally different to that of her predecessors. The author also makes a point we have not heard before: The German constitution has no place for party referendums. Like the Brexit referendum, it is not binding for SPD MPs. President Frank-Walter Steinmeier could bypass the whole process, and organise a vote in the Bundestag right now that would enthrone Merkel as chancellor.
Alan Posener writes in Die Welt that SPD’s strategy might at best succeed in the short run, but will fail in the long run. He notes that young generation in both SPD and CDU/CSU is departing from the compulsive centrist tendency in German politics. The left in the SPD is looking to Jeremy Corbyn, and the right in the CDU/CSU to people like Sebastian Kurz of Austria.