Berlin Politics

The Left-Leaning Option

Der Regierende Bürgermeister von Berlin und Spitzenkandidat Michael Müller (SPD), spricht neben (l-r) Thomas Oppermann, Katarina Barley, Manuela Schwesig, Sigmar Gabriel und Müllers Ehefrau Claudia am 18.09.2016 nach den Ergebnissen zu der Abgeordnetenhauswahl in Berlin. Foto: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
SPD's top candidate Michael Müller with fellow party members after the Berlin elections. Could an alliance in state government pave the way for cooperation with the Greens and Left Party at a national level?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union continues to lose support, a left-leaning alliance following next year’s election could mean an end to Chancellor Angela Merkel – and a drastically different German government.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • After the success of left parties in Berlin state elections, there is talk of an alliance at the federal level between the center-left SPD, the Left Party and Green Party.
    • There has been a series of meetings between the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party since 2013.
    • The Left Party has a reputation of strict socialism in some of its regional groups, which won’t find favor with most Social Democrats.
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    Audio

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Thomas Oppermann, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, the SPD, isn’t saying whether his party will leave the coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. Talk of a new left-leaning coalition with the SPD, Greens and the Left Party has emerged after the chancellor’s party suffered big losses in Berlin state elections on Sunday.

In a radio interview on Monday, Mr. Oppermann said there wasn’t enough consensus yet on concrete issues for such an alliance but he pointed out that this could change by federal parliamentary elections in little over a year.

In June, Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD party chairman and vice chancellor, told magazine Der Spiegel that in Europe “progressive parties and movements must be ready to ally with each other and be capable of governing together.”

Mr. Gabriel later tried to sidestep the statement. But the genie was out of the bottle. As far back as the SPD party congress in 2013, party rhetoric had already begun to shift away from its once unbending rejection of working with the left. Since then, there has been a series of meetings between the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left.

Berlin is pointing towards red-red-green for its own parliamentary government.

Berlin could well be headed toward a left-of-center state government. There is no longer a sufficient mandate for the current coalition between the conservative Christian Democrats and the left-of-center Social Democrats.

The SPD’s left wing is taking advantage of what it sees as a window of opportunity.

“In 2017, we must counter a fear-mongering electoral strategy with one based on hope,” said Frank Schwabe, spokesman for the “Denkfabrik,” a group of young, leftist Social Democrats with seats in the parliament, the Bundestag. “From the standpoint of the SPD, this requires a vigorous call for the red-red-green option.”

He added that discussions among the parties “are now being intensified” in the wake of Berlin elections.

Axel Schäfer, one of the SPD’s deputy heads in the Bundestag, said the “series of overlapping positions” among the three parties could not be ignored.

“In the coming months, we will discuss whether the SPD will clearly advocate a red-red-green coalition in its campaign for the 2017 federal elections,” he told Handelsblatt.

“In the coming months, we will discuss whether the SPD will clearly advocate a red-red-green coalition in its campaign for the 2017 federal elections.”

Axel Schäfer, SPD deputy head

The SPD’s potential partners are avidly discussing this chance to attain power. Bernd Riexinger, the Left Party chairman, is already setting out conditions for collaboration with the two other parties.

“We want all three parties to work towards creating a socially aware camp that will combat the insatiable greed of a super-rich minority, and build a bulwark against racism and nationalism,” Mr. Riexinger said. “Only then will it be possible to address the issue of participating in a government.”

The Green Party is also examining the possibility of forming a left-of-center coalition with the SPD and the Left Party. The party’s budgetary expert Sven-Christian Kindler is convinced that the CDU-CSU-SPD coalition will be voted out of office next year.

“Berlin now needs new policies, and in 2017 a change of course will become imperative on the federal level too,” he said.

However, such an alliance would not come without controversy, or its opponents.

A left-of-center coalition on the federal level is even further off than a viable business model for Deutsche Bank,” said the Green Party’s Sven Giegold. “Only when the Left Party’s national leadership follows the example of its Berlin section will there be a chance of red-green-red on the federal level.”

The situation in Berlin cannot easily be copied nationally. The Left Party in Berlin, and throughout eastern Germany, has a reputation for pragmatism and lack of consistent dogma. In western Germany, there are regional Left Party groups that still advocate for strict socialism, such as the dissolution of NATO. That won’t find favor with most Social Democrats.

But Bremen-based party researcher Lothar Probst believes that if a left alliance proves successful in Berlin, it could bolster arguments for such a constellation on the national level.

According to Probst, Mr. Gabriel also knows “that another grand coalition in Berlin is the last thing his party members want. If he sees a chance of becoming chancellor next year this way, he will not only not exclude such a coalition next year, but also begin marching in that direction at the right point in time.”

There are plenty of Social Democrats who still find the idea implausible. If red-red-green ever happens, it will definitely be with a heightened mood of compromise for all parties involved.

 

Heike Anger is an editor for economics and politics at Handelsblatt. Dietmar Neuerer covers domestic politics for Handelsblatt from Berlin. Klaus Stratmann writes about energy policy for Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: anger@handelsblatt.comneuerer@handelsblatt.com and stratmann@handelsblatt.com.

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