After five months of talks between the parties of Germany, a governing coalition has finally been agreed upon — another grand compromise between the two largest forces in German politics, the Social Democratic SPD and the Christian Democratic CDU. The election in September 2017 dealt catastrophic losses to both of these parties, thereby apparently sending a clear signal that the policies of the previous grand coalition of SPD and CDU were no longer wanted.
The big winner of the German elections was the far-right AFD, the “Alternative for Germany,” which promised to break away completely from “established politics” and campaigned especially on an anti-immigration ticket. Although it was only formed in 2013, it gained 12.6% of the federal vote, which makes it the third strongest force in German politics. This confirmed that the controversial immigration policy, which led to the acceptance of over 1 million refugees in 2015, had accelerated the political influence of the German right.
The SPD initially vowed to lead the opposition, to keep the AFD in check, as its growing influence is deemed a danger for democracy. However, the party then pivoted to joining another grand coalition after talks of an alternative coalition between CDU, the liberal FDP and the Greens failed.
Will this decision to take part in another government with the CDU turn out to be the final political disaster for the SPD, or is there a calculated strategy afoot that might enable the party to regain its lost momentum?
Is It a Mistake?
At first glance, it appears almost certain that the decision to enter into talks with the CDU was going to hurt the image of the SPD further. Both Schulz and Nahles had made it explicit that the SPD was not going to join another grand coalition. The leadership of the SPD saw itself with the following options: either enter into coalition talks with the CDU and make the best of them or decline the offer and risk re-elections or a minority government of the CDU.
Ultimately, these alternatives were deemed less desirable than the course the party decided on. The SPD wanted to avoid re-elections, as it had to be assumed that these would favor the far-right AFD even further, benefiting from their momentum and electoral success in the September 2017 elections. As the SPD had already likely lost voters to the AFD, this was not a risk the party was prepared to take. From the perspective of the SPD, it also seemed unlikely that the CDU would form a minority government, as Merkel had stated she would be unwilling to remain head of the CDU in this eventuality.