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September 20, 2018

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A foul deal and the consequences

The foul political deal in the German coalition has led to a full-scale rebellion within the SPD, which is the ultimate political loser in the spy scandal. SPD chief Andrea Nahles not only requested but promised the dismissal of Hans-Georg Maaßen as Germany’s chief spy master, when he seemed to downplay the danger of right-wing terrorism. She obtained a Pyrrhic victory when the coalition agreed to promote him to deputy interior minister, from which he would exert political supervision of the German police and internal security. The reaction from the SPD’s leadership has been one of shock and dismay. 

During the coalition talks on Tuesday, the grand coalition was on the brink of collapse according to both sides. We have difficulty believing this. The SPD has no strategy other than to remain a responsible junior partner in a centrist coalition. And the CDU has no interest in replacing the SPD with the much more difficult FDP and Greens as coalition partners. The situation may arise, but not as a decision of the party leaders. They fudge for as long as they can. The danger to the coalition does not come from Merkel or Nahles, but from within their own parties. 

Seehofer came out of this confrontation as the big winner. His favourite civil servant ended up being promoted. But pressure is now growing on Nahles. The Bavarian section of the SPD wants the decision revoked. SPD politicians are now openly questioning the continuation of the federal coalition. FAZ has taken the rare decision to cover the entire width of the news section of its front page with this story - a sign that it attaches utmost importance to it. The German political media are sensing that the coalition may not hold. Patience is running thin. 

Nahles predictably reacted with a plea to members to continue the coalition, citing the looming trade war with the US and the geopolitical situation as reasons to support a stable government. We think she will probably prevail in the short term. But the grand coalition offers no strategic perspective for the SPD. The party has almost collapsed in Bavaria, and Nahles will have to defend the unloved grand coalition through many lost state and local elections. This government will not die with a bang but out of sheer exhaustion. 

Formally, Seehofer has the right to appoint any deputy minister he likes. He does not need the SPD’s support. Of course, the SPD could have threatened to walk out of the coalition. Since Nahles excluded this possibility, she had no means to put pressure on Seehofer. This is telling us that Nahles will do everything she can to keep the SPD in government. This is the reason why the party is getting nervous. 

Bild sees Nahles on the way out. She made a promise, but was unable to pull through. In the end, the only person who ended up losing his job is the current deputy interior minister, an SPD member. Jasper von Altenbockum notes in FAZ that the biggest political shifts in Germany right now are the rise of Maaßen and the fall of the SPD.  

Bild quotes the head of the SPD’s youth organisation, who has supported Nahles so far, saying that he has now reached his personal pain threshold in the coalition. Sigmar Gabriel, still reeling from the way he was treated by Nahles and his former friend Martin Schulz, called the compromise maddening. 

Our other stories

We also have stories on the long Brexit endgame; on back-to-back derivatives after Brexit; on Bulgaria supporting Orbán; on the divisions among the French Republicans due to Orbán; on UK inflation; and on Anel maybe not leaving the government over Macedonia after all.

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