An agreement that paves the way for Angela Merkel to form a new coalition government in Germany has been cast in doubt by a growing rebellion in the Social Democrat party (SPD).
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Mrs Merkel and the SPD leader, Martin Schulz, on Friday sealed a deal after marathon 24-hour talks to open formal negotiations on renewing their coalition.
But the agreement has to be approved by a special SPD party congress next Sunday, and there are signs of growing opposition in the party, which suffered heavy losses in last September’s elections.
“There was a clear vote against both coalition partners,” Michael Müller, the mayor of Berlin, told Tagesspiegel newspaper.
“The same coalition with the same policy is not a good enough answer to this. A continuation without decisive changes does not convince me yet.”
If the SPD votes against joining a coalition, it would leave Mrs Merkel facing the prospect of new elections or trying to form a minority government.
Her agreement with Mr Schulz has already failed its first test, after the SPD regional association in the state Saxony-Anhalt voted to oppose a new coalition this weekend.
The small state only sends seven delegates to the SPD congress out of a total of 600. But the decision has sent jitters through the SPD and the party leadership is scurrying to shore up its support.
Mr Schulz initially ruled out renewing the coalition with Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) after September’s election results.
But he changed his mind in the face of open rebellion from the party’s MPs after Mrs Merkel’s talks with smaller parties collapsed late last year.
So far there has only been significant opposition to a new coalition within from the SPD youth wing, the Jusos. But influential party figures are beginning to speak out and accusing Mr Schulz leadership of faining to win enough concessions from Mrs Merkel in last week’s talks.
Mr Müller complained that Mr Schulz failed to deliver on manifesto promises to raise taxes for the rich and reform the German health insurance system.
Malu Dreyer, the regional prime minister of Rhineland-Palatinate state, has said CDU plans to cap immigration are “very difficult”.
Michael Groschek, the leader of the SPD’s biggest regional association in North Rhine-Westphalia, whose votes could be decisive at next week’s congress, said there was still “a lot of scepticism” about a new coalition with Mrs Merkel.
“You couldn’t say there was a storm of enthusiasm,” he said after a regional party meeting. “There were voices for and against.”
Clearly rattled by the reaction so far, the SPD leadership has deployed its big guns to make the case for a new coalition.
Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister and one of Germany’s most popular politicians, has been sent to the regional associations to urge them to back the deal.
Senior politicians from Mrs Merkel’s party reacted angrily to suggestions from some in the SPD that they wanted to renegotiate the terms of Friday’s agreement.
“We’re focused on dependability,” Julia Klöckner, the CDU’s regional leader in Rhineland-Palatinate said. “Every detail was negotiated in the agreement. No cherry-picking, please.”
Alexander Dobrindt of Mrs Merkel’s Bavarian sister party rold Bild am Sonntag newspaper: “Martin Schulz must now show that the SPD can be a reliable coalition partner and get this brouhaha under control.”
If the SPD votes against a new coalition next week, it will not only spell disaster for Mrs Merkel. Mr Schulz will almost certainly be forced to resign, his authority in tatters. And with the entire SPD leadership and parliamentary party firmly behind a new coalition, the party will be plunged into chaos.