Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel won her rattled government some time as her junior coalition partner agreed to remain on board for a while longer despite the turbulent resignation of its chief.
“We remain true to the coalition agreement,” said Malu Dreyer, prime minister of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and one of the three state leaders who will jointly steer the party until a new leader is elected at a convention expected for mid-October.
The departure of Andrea Nahles as the head of the Social Democrats on Sunday followed the party’s poor results in European elections and shook Germany’s political class. The SPD’s departure would force Merkel to govern with a minority government, seek new allies, or call snap elections. While that scenario is less likely for the time being, it hasn’t gone away, says Ulrich Sarcinelli, a political scientist at the University of Koblenz-Landau.
“One cannot rule out anymore that there will be a blowup at some point,” Sarcinelli said in a phone interview. “Both the Christian Democrats and the SPD know very well that they would lose seats in new elections right now, so it’s quite possible this grand coalition will die a very slow and painful death.”
The SPD has seen its support slump sharply in recent polls. In the May European election, its support nearly halved to 15.8%, while the party lost its traditional stronghold of Bremen in a regional vote the same day.
Asked whether there was a reason for concern with the new SPD triumvirate, Merkel said all three were familiar to her and had signed the agreement that underlies the coalition with the CDU.
“I don’t get the impression that this is a sign of instability, it’s rather a process of the SPD finding itself,” Merkel said Monday afternoon.
Indeed, the leader of Merkel’s party also signaled she intends to ride out the latest crisis and is keen to push ahead with the administration’s agenda.
“There are good reasons not to abandon the government frivolously,” CDU chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Monday in Berlin.
Yet while both sides sought to downplay the risk of rupture, the issue will remain on the table in coming weeks. By June 24, the SPD wants to lay out a road map as to how and when a new leadership will be elected and whether the party decides to remain in the coalition. Certain to impact party sentiment will be results from elections in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony in early September.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who has ruled out running for the party’s top job, said the review of the coalition contract later in the year is not a small matter and should be put to the rank-and-file party members.
None of the three members of the SPD triumvirate intend to bid for the party’s top job.
“It’s a difficult and serious situation for us but the party is not without leadership or rudderless,” Dreyer said.