German SPD backs joining Merkel in coalition to end impasse


BERLIN • Germany’s Social Democrats Party (SPD) voted to join Chancellor Angela Merkel’s next government, clearing the last hurdle to her fourth term and restoring a sense of political stability in Europe’s biggest economy.

The SPD approved a coalition pact with Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU)-led bloc — with 66% in favour and 34% against — in a member ballot unsealed yesterday morning that effectively ends more than five months of political stalemate.

The chancellor can expect to be re-inaugurated by mid- March, allowing her to move ahead with priorities such as working with Emmanuel Macron to strengthen the eurozone and coordinating on a united European front against Chinese encroachment.

“We now have clarity,” interim SDP chairman Olaf Scholz told reporters. “The SPD will join the next government.”

While the impasse in Berlin hasn’t dented Germany’s economic boom, it’s held back policymaking since Merkel won a national election in September with her bloc’s worst result since 1949. That weakness, and the arrival of a farright party in Parliament, reflect a changing political landscape that almost derailed Merkel’s bid to extend her 12 years in office.

“Let’s get to work — Germany and Europe,” Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff, tweeted seconds after the announcement.

With a resumption of the “grand coalition” government now assured, the SPD’s pick for finance minister will be among the most-watched decisions ahead. Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg and a centrist SPD, is viewed as the front-runner for a post the party wrested from Merkel in the coalition deal sealed in February. The SPD plan to unveil their Cabinet nominations on March 12.

Fending off a youthful grassroots revolt against staying in government allows the SDP to serve as Merkel’s junior partner for the third time in the grand coalition of Germany’s two biggest parties. It’s a sign that the political centre, while diminished, is holding after the longest coalition-building talks since World War II.

Merkel, reduced to acting chancellor for months, has said she’ll serve a full term until the next scheduled election in 2021. Even so, she’s begun preparing the CDU for her eventual departure.

Last week, Merkel named an ideological ally and successful state election campaigner, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, to a senior party post.

Responding to conservative critics who blame the chancellor for the party’s electoral decline, Merkel also nominated a crop of younger leaders for Cabinet positions.

The SPD ballot was both the final hurdle and the last option for a Merkel-led majority government after the pro-market Free Democrats, a CDU ally in the past, scuttled a first set of coalition talks. That breakdown, and turmoil in the SPD after its worst postwar election result, made it unusually difficult to build a government alliance.

Polls suggest Merkel retains a solid power base, with 52% of the general public and 85% of her bloc’s supporters saying they favour her serving another term, according to an FG Wahlen poll for broadcaster ZDF published last week.