Merkel’s coalition in crisis talks after EU vote debacle

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with a party member during a leadership meeting of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party May 27, 2019 at the party’s headquarters in Berlin, a day after the European elections. — AFP pic
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with a party member during a leadership meeting of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party May 27, 2019 at the party’s headquarters in Berlin, a day after the European elections. — AFP pic

BERLIN, May 27 — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s embattled coalition will hold crisis talks today after a thumping at European polls that has reignited questions over its survival.

Voters handed her CDU party and its centre-left coalition partner the Social Democratic Party (SPD) their worst score in European election history, while doubling support for the Greens amid rising fears over global warming.

The Greens snatched the second spot from the SPD, coming in just behind Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU alliance.

Crucially, the environmental party took more than a million votes — including many from young people — from both the SPD and the CDU.

News weekly Der Spiegel judged that the coalition is “in danger” after yesterday’s drubbing.

“This instability can lead to a break-up at any time,” it said. “The CDU and SPD are deeply insecure parties. If, for example, SPD leader (Andrea) Nahles were to fall, the question of the continued existence of the coalition would immediately arise.”

The SPD, which was stung by a beating at general elections in 2017, had at the time initially sought to go into opposition.

But it was reluctantly coaxed into renewing a partnership with Merkel, even as many within the party remain wary of continuing to govern in her shadow while taking the fall for unpopular policies.

With the SPD also losing the top spot yesterday in a long-time stronghold, the city-state of Bremen, rumblings of discontent against the party leadership could well grow louder.

Already ahead of the vote, Bild am Sonntag newspaper had quoted unnamed sources as saying that veteran politician Martin Schulz was ready to stand against Nahles when the parliamentary chief post comes up for renewal in September.

Slapping down the speculation, the SPD’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz warned against any leadership challenges, saying that “calling for personal consequences would not help”.

Blindsided

With an eye on three key state elections looming in the autumn in Germany’s ex-communist east — where the far-right is projected to make further gains — time is running out for the SPD to find an answer to halt the haemorrhage of voters.

“The debate about (staying in) the grand coalition is likely to pick up again in the SPD. It’s no longer about renewal but about the existence” of the party, said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

But the SPD was not the only party in crisis mode: Merkel’s CDU too has been blindsided by youth-led anger centred on global warming.

Key party figures admitted yesterday that they had campaigned on the wrong topics, as they overlooked climate which has overtaken immigration to become the main concern of German voters this year.

The momentum for the green surge had been building up over months as the school strikes started last November by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 16, caught the imagination of youth across the world.

The Greens were given a further boost in Germany by a prominent YouTuber called Rezo, whose online assault against Merkel’s coalition accusing it of failing to act to halt global warming went viral in the final days of the election campaign.

The CDU struggled for days to put out the fire, while Rezo upped the ante and published a joint call with 70 influential YouTubers telling their millions of followers to shun parties in Merkel’s coalition and the far-right AfD at the polls.

Yesterday, one in three under-30s picked the Greens, while only 13 per cent voted for the CDU. The SPD obtained 10 percent of the age group.

Among first-time voters, the Greens attracted 36 per cent, the CDU 11 per cent and the SPD 7 per cent.

Party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who hopes to succeed Merkel as chancellor when the veteran leader steps down in 2021, conceded: “Yes, we made mistakes in this election campaign, that has to be said.”

Markus Soeder, who heads Merkel’s Bavarian CSU allies, declared the environmental party its main rival now.

“The biggest challenge of the future is the intensive debate with the Greens,” he said, adding that “old measures that we had before are no longer valid”.

Underlining that the CDU-CSU bloc was struggling to draw young voters, he conceded that “we must work to be younger, cooler and more open”. — AFP