SPD's No-Win Dilemma: Peak Schulz, Peak Merkel
Yesterday, The Guardian reported Germany's SPD Gives Cautious Green Light to Merkel Coalition Talks.
Done Deal? No, Not Quite
Sunday afternoon, in Grand Coalition Talks Proceed: Elections Avoided? Not Yet, I offered this assessment.
"For starters, 56% of the party voting to proceed is a shockingly weak percentage. Once a final deal is reached, assuming a deal is reached, the party’s 450,000 members have an up or down vote on the package. With only 56% of the party leaders in favor of the deal, the membership vote is certainly questionable. Then again, such uncertainties assume Schulz will actually put this to a rank-and-file vote."
This morning Eurointelligence weighed in, via Email.
The commentary and the reports were devastating for Martin Schulz. The 56% vote by the SPD party congress in favour of formal coalition negotiations is narrow - too narrow to be certain of a final endorsement by SPD members, who will decide once the negotiations are done. The result was narrower than expected partly because of Schulz' own lacklustre speech, which reminded us a little bit of Theresa May's disaster at the Tory conference. While the performances are more symbolic than anything, they reflect a possibly self-fulfilling view that these leaders are living on borrowed time. Even if the SPD party members were to approve the grand coalition - which should not be taken for granted - the Schulz era is ending. This is also Süddeutsche Zeitung's headline this morning. Nobody is yet ready to challenge him, as the TV commentator Angela Ulrich pointed out in Tageschau. It was a personal Waterloo, she said.
Jasper von Altenbockum, writing in FAZ, put this finger on the SPD's ultimate dilemma. Even if it promises to improve on the coalition outline agreement by adding the end of private health insurance, a departure from the Agenda 2010, and changes to the refugee policies, the SPD cannot credibly advocate a break from the past if it continues to govern the way it governed before. Schulz did not resolve that fundamental contradiction. The SPD is so afraid of losing further public support that it avoids asking the really difficult question of German politics. How do we have to reform our immigration system so that our children will prosper? The SPD has no answer to this question.
The timetable for the new talks is this: Formal coalition talks start Tuesday. Merkel wants to wrap this up by carnival - February 12 this year. The vote by the party's 440,000 members will take about four weeks - so the whole thing won’t be wrapped up until mid-March.
A Yes vote among SPD members is still possible, but something will have to happen. An external event might intrude. Maybe Schulz will manage to spring a surprise in the coalition agreement, but today he appeared tired. It was Andrea Nahles, the leader of the Bundestag’s SPD group, who gave a passionate speech. She is the most likely successor to Schulz if there is a No vote - even though she, too, supports the grand coalition.
The big issue now is how SPD members will vote once the final coalition agreement is presented to them. One should note that yesterday's vote was public, so there was a lot of group pressure on the rank-and-file of the SPD delegates to support the leadership. A secret ballot would have brought an even narrower result. The SPD members' referendum will naturally be a secret ballot. There are as yet no reliable polls of SPD members, but a recent poll suggests that SPD voters are split down the middle. We know from anecdotal evidence that the grassroots SPD activists are mostly opposed. It is our sense that at the moment there is no sufficient support for a grand coalition among members, but the outcome will depend on factors such as the gains Schulz may achieve in the upcoming coalition negotiations, on external events, and on the opinion polls.
What's It All About? Limousines
Schulz and all the high-ranking officials want to hang on to their job perks, exorbitant political slush funds, and limousines for as long as they can.
AfD the Winner
AfD is the winner regardless of what happens. Here are the scenarios.
- Grand Coalition forms: AfD becomes the largest opposition party with increased parliamentary powers as a result.
- Grand Coalition does not form: There will be new elections if Merkel keeps her word about not forming a minority government. Support for SPD is on the wane. A "grand coalition" may not even be possible after the next election; CDU/CSU and SPD might not reach the 50% threshold.
1.A: Within option one, there is the possibility the grand coalition quickly collapses over infighting. I highly doubt it goes four years.
1.B: Also within option one, there is a possibility the final agreement demands Merkel step aside after 2 years. Would she agree? I do not know. However, Schulz may need to pull some rabbit out of his hat to get the rank-and-file to approve the final deal.
What About Rabbits?
To get the rank-and-file to vote for the deal, Schulz may need to pull a rabbit out of his hat.
If that rabbit is some sort of pro-Europe, budget-commingling madness, or some sort of minimum wage or job guarantee madness, the rabbit will benefit AfD and FDP at the expense of Merkel's CDU/CSU party.
Peak Schulz, Peak Merkel
Peak Merkel has clearly come and gone. She cast a foolish bet on refugees that blew up in her face. Despite the immigration flow being cut off, voters are still angry over the issue.
I first wrote about "Peak Merkel" on October 18, 2015: Swamped By Stupidity; Peak Merkel.
Schulz and the SPD are on the wrong side of immigration as well. And Schulz is more pro-Europe than the rest of Germany other than the Greens.
Schulz is screaming "More Europe" to a deaf Germany when the problem is "More Europe".
Eurointelligence offered this pertinent comment: "When Schulz mentioned in his speech that President Emmanuel Macron had called him, he was met with cynical laughter among delegates. Europe is a big issue for Schulz - and for us - but not for the average SPD politician, let alone SPD voter."
Once again, I agree with the Eurointelligence take on what is happening, while disagreeing with the desired outcome.
Eurointelligence believes in "More Europe". I think it's a huge part of the problem and cannot work for fundamental reasons.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock