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September 21, 2018

SPD ministers want to continue grand coalition

We have made the observation before that the lure of ministerial limousines has become the main motivator for the SPD to join successive grand-coalition governments - however bad it gets for them. Notwithstanding the party‘s utter humiliation at the hands of Horst Seehofer, the SPD‘s ministers yesterday decided that they will stick with the grand coalition. Of course they would. Olaf Scholz has just become finance minister. Heiko Maas seems to relish his position as foreign minister. What would these people do if they were not in government?

The trouble is that the SPD‘s membership, and the country at large, are becoming increasingly disillusioned. The immigration crisis and its various outgrowths have cast a permanent shadow over all of German politics. The SPD asked for the dismissal of Hans-Georg Maaßen as president of the Office for the protection of the constitution after he appeared to condone right-wing violence. Seehofer agreed, but then promoted him to the more important job of deputy minister in charge of German security policy. It was a clever and cynical ploy. Andrea Nahles, the SPD leader, accepted it but underestimated the fierce reaction from within her own party. 

The much-respected ARD/Deutschlandtrend poll has recorded for the first time the AfD‘s position as Germany‘s second largest parties, with support of 18%, ahead of the SPD with 17%. We expect other polls to confirm this trend. We see the AfD‘s total potential capped at 20-25%, not enough to become Germany‘s largest party but big to enough to frustrate many of the classic coalition options - including the grand coalition. As we predicted at the time when the present coalition was formed, the AfD is benefiting from its role as the largest opposition party. Like other right-wing parties the AfD also managed to set the tone of the political debate. Everybody is discussing immigration and violent crimes by immigrants. 

The SPD is not a party whose members traditionally revolt against their leaders. But with each state election the discontent will grow. The latest scandal will probably help the CSU in Bavaria, while the SPD‘s share of the vote is forecast to decline there. The leaders of the Bavarian SPD are understandably unhappy with Nahles.

The SPD entered the government after the failure by CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens to form a coalition because the FDP feared that Merkel would accept Emmanuel Macron‘s eurozone proposals. As it turned out, Merkel rejected them anyway. If the SPD goes, there should be no reason not to go for a second attempt to form a Jamaica-coalition. And the Bundestag would have a proper opposition party. The SPD leadership argued at the time that it decided to enter government out of a sense of responsibility. That argument has become harder to sustain.

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