Split Social Democrats Could Sink Merkel's Coalition Plans

Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Martin Schulz attend  a news conference in Berlin on January 12.Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Martin Schulz attend  a news conference in Berlin on January 12.

The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) tried on Tuesday to quash a grassroots rebellion against a blueprint agreed with Angela Merkel’s conservatives to enter formal talks on a “grand coalition” which could scupper her plan for a fourth term.

After five days of intensive talks, SPD leader Martin Schulz agreed a framework deal with Merkel and Bavarian conservatives on Friday but before he can start official negotiations he needs the backing of his party in a vote at a conference on Sunday, Reuters reported.

Convincing them is proving difficult. Two regional branches have already said they do not back his deal.

Many rank and file members accuse Schulz of selling out to Merkel and failing to win a signature policy to take to coalition talks, such as a major healthcare reform or tax hikes for the rich.

Schulz is touring the country to convince his party base.

“We have a duty to look at how to make life better for people,” Schulz said in a live Facebook broadcast on Tuesday.

“We are living in the world of [US President Donald] Trump, [Russian President Vladimir)] Putin, [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan. We live in a world of dictators who make the world’s breath pause with their crazed ideas... And we have the chance to make Europe a bit more social, peaceful and just,” he added.

If the SPD on Sunday rejects entering talks, the prospect of a new election or a minority government under Merkel loom—both unwelcome options for stability-loving Germans.

Defeat would also almost certainly mean the end of Schulz’s leadership of the SPD, commentators say.

Many in the SPD are wary of a re-run of the grand coalition which ruled under Merkel between 2013 and 2017. A junior role leaves them in her shadow, unable to win credit from voters.

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