German grand coalition deal in trouble

[Revised and extended, 2:30 p.m.]

The head of the SPD, Franz Müntefering, announced he is stepping down and the head of the CSU, Edmund Stoiber, announced that he will not assume a cabinet position.

Müntefering indicated he could yet take a cabinet position, but his resignation as party head raises doubt about the grand coalition. The Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democrats (CDU and its Bavarian conterpart, CSU) had agreed, in principle, to govern jointly after the September election resulted in neither the Christan Democrat/Free Democrat nor the incumbent SPD/Green alliance obtaining a majority.

It is interesting the extent to which the problems of this fledgling coalition result from intra-party conflict (taking CDU and CSU to be, for national government-formation purposes, a single party).

The story linked above notes the following:

Müntefering had announced his resignation from the party leadership post on Monday after his hand-picked candidate for the position of SPD secretary general, Kajo Wasserhövel, lost soundly in an executive committee vote to Andrea Nahles, who represents the left-wing of the party.

Of course, as I reported before the election, the main reason the election was called ahead of schedule was percisely problems between the incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the left wing of his party. Some of the left wing split off to link (so to speak) with the ex-Communists in the new Linke alliance. So, the SPD has internal problems that a grand coalition with conservatives is already exacerbating.

Stoiber gave the SPD’s internal problems, and the resulting uncertainty of its commitment to a grand coalition, as his own reason for withdrawing from what would have been his post as Economy Minister. However, while the news accounts do not mention this possibility, the reasons could be deeper. Stoiber and Angela Merkl (CDU leader and presumed Chancellor-to-be) are rivals for the leadership of the right, and Merkl deserves some blame for the unexpectdely poor showing of the CDU/CSU in an election they (with the Free Dems) were expected to win.

The chances of a new election have just gone up, and if there were such an election, Stoiber could be the right’s Chancellor candidate instead of Merkl.

However, one should not rule out a renewed grand-coalition agreement.

An early election really is the only viable alternative to a grand coalition, as the other parties (Green, Free Democrats, and Linke) either don’t want in or (especially in the case of the Linke) are not wanted in by either of the big parties.

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