Admittedly, it has been a few years since Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have experienced anything close to a political triumph. But the enthusiasm with which the center-left party has embraced chaos just as it looked as though leader Martin Schulz had finally one-upped Chancellor Angela Merkel in the country’s endless search for a coalition government has nevertheless been breathtaking. And the upshot on both sides of the aisle is bewildering: Schulz has renounced claims to a cabinet position and appears to be heading for the backbenches while the SPD leadership has so deeply infuriated the base that it’s unclear whether they will approve the coalition deal at all.
Meanwhile, Merkel has sold the family silver to stay in power and stirred her erstwhile catatonic party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), into a potentially revolutionary fury.
“It seems that the worse the SPD does in elections and the louder the party’s grassroots gripes, the more concessions the CDU … has to make in negotiations to make the SPD happy,” grumbled Wolfgang Bosbach, a long-serving CDU parliamentarian. “How small do the conservatives want to make themselves?”
Bosbach was referring to the outcome of the coalition negotiations last week between Merkel’s CDU, Schulz’s SPD and the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to the CDU. After months of unsuccessfully trying to assemble a government, Merkel was beginning to get desperate, and the result of that desperation was on full display last Wednesday. Despite emerging from the election last September as the strongest party, the CDU will not end up holding any key cabinet positions in Merkel’s next government, should the deal ultimately be approved. In a seemingly unending night of haggling, Schulz walked away with the powerful Finance Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, ended up going to the CSU, with party leader Horst Seehofer likely to move to Berlin to take over the portfolio.