After hemming and hawing and against strong opposition from many in the party base, the Social Democrats (SPD) voted Thursday to enter into talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats to form a new grand coalition government – but without committing to a successful conclusion of those negotiations.
The vote came in a tumultuous convention which laid bare the divisions plaguing the party. The lackluster leadership of party chair Martin Schulz was more apparent than ever as he took responsibility for the SPD’s worst-ever postwar results but put himself forward for a renewed term as party leader. He won that vote.
But it was his zigzag course regarding a new grand coalition with Ms. Merkel’s conservatives that was the most divisive. In the immediate aftermath of the September 24 election, the SPD leader summarily rejected any possibility of renewing the coalition, forcing Ms. Merkel into talks with two smaller parties, the Free Democrats and Greens, which ultimately collapsed. It proved impossible even with Ms. Merkel’s demonstrated political skills to bring these two parties under the same umbrella.