Signs of life in the German Social Democratic Party. Coalition talks between the SPD and Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU electoral union have veered into an interesting area. Since it is actually possible, in theory, for the SPD to walk away from these coalition talks and put something together, instead, with Die Linke (the Left Party) and Die Grüne (the Green Party), it might be worth the SPD’s time to talk like that is an actual possibility in order to get Merkel to cede ground on policy.
Of course, the idea of actually putting together an SPD-Left-Green coalition might be a lot shakier of a proposition – mostly because it would be very hard to imagine the Left participating in government. The Greens have gone into coalition with the SPD already at the federal level already. But the Left has a tendency to want to avoid responsibility for “managing capitalism”, so chances are they wouldn’t even actually be interested in formally joining a coalition. They would much rather be in the position of providing the balance of power to a minority SPD-Green coalition…voting with them to keep Merkel out, then storming away from supporting the coalition at some point when the SPD’s presumed capitalist roaders have disappointed the purist faithful sufficiently.
There is one SPD-Left coalition actually functioning in Germany at the state level right now, in Brandenburg. So it’s not impossible for it to happen. But the Left Party gets a lot more of the vote percentage-wise in Brandenburg than it does across Germany as a whole. Chances are the Left would not see their influence over a ministry, most likely headed by Sigmar Gabriel, as being as great.
I wouldn’t be appalled to see the SPD cooperating with the Left Party. Right now, at least, the Left seems to be behaving itself. Its current leaders are the “emancipatory Left” Dresden MP Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, an activist with roots in the labour movement. I’m actually a fan of Kipping’s – I figure anyone who grew up in East Germany but spent her formative years editing a journal called “Prague Spring” (“Prager Frühling” in German) can’t be the leader of a Left Party worth fearing. There are, of course, lots of members of the Left Party who, if they became leader, would be worth fearing. Sahra Wagenknecht, for example, who still prattles on about what we can all learn from the “real, existing socialism” of East Germany, is to be feared…and she does represent the opinions of many in the Left Party. But she doesn’t represent the majority, it would appear. Kipping does. Sigmar Gabriel and the SPD are right to explore working with a Left Party actually willing to say goodbye to all that.
That said, if I were a German citizen casting a ballot in an election, I still wouldn’t touch the Left Party, even with Kipping as one of its leaders, with a ten-foot pole. The Left Party has a long way to go before it deserves that. If one wants to send the message that the SPD isn’t responsive to voters, the Green Party remains a much more palatable alternative.
But in today’s Germany, the Left finished third and the Greens finished fourth. So the matter at hand is to figure out if there is a constructive way to work with the Left. There may be. The SPD should approach this without illusions, though.
It seems Gabriel understands this. The SPD is making a few of the Left’s shibboleths (like Germany quitting NATO, for example) a test case. “Yes, we’ll work with you as long as everyone understands this coalition will not support quitting NATO” is a good strategy. The SPD should be quite assertive about pushing these kinds of strategies, as it indicates that negotiating with the Left doesn’t mean being captured by it.
I would still like to see an alternative to Merkel form, but the SPD has to be wise about how it goes about constructing it. First, its candidate, Peer Steinbrück, rejected in the 2013 election campaign the kinds of coalitions which Sigmar Gabriel is now considering. Also, the CDU-CSU gained votes in election 2013 while other parties lost votes. Chances are, not going into coalition with Merkel will be seen as an attempt to obstruct the voters wills.
But the voters didn’t give CDU-CSU a majority, just a plurality…and probably Left and Green voters would be delighted to see Merkel removed. Gabriel could very well become a hero by mothballing the Steinbrück strategy and taking a walk from the coalition talks with Merkel.
It’s worth a shot. At the very least, let’s see how Merkel responds to the possibility.