The SPD vote on joining German coalition

The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) membership voted 76% in favor of ratifying the coalition agreement struck by its leadership with the leaders of the Christian Democratic and Christian Social Unions. They will now enter the not-so-grand coalition headed by Angela Merkel, who enters her third term as German Chancellor.

Michael Miebach, deputy director of the Progressives Zentrum think tank, quoted in the Guardian before the vote, summed it all up well:

“It looks more and more like an ingenious chess move that solves several problems at once. Instead of debating the disastrous election result or even the detail of the coalition deal, everyone’s talking about the ballot,” Miebach said. “It will keep in check party rebels who complain that they weren’t asked, and it has proved a useful tool during the negotiations with Merkel. But of course, it could still all end in disaster.”

The chances of an end in “disaster” presumably were never strong, for the reasons Miebach offers elsewhere in the quote. That did not prevent the same Guardian article from saying that a vote against “would lead to nothing short of a national crisis”. Hyperbole? We won’t get to find out.

According to the first-linked news story, at DW,

The CDU will have the chancellor and five ministers. Its sister party, the CSU, will have three ministries. The SPD will have six.

The SPD will have the Justice and Consumer Protection portfolio, which is a newly combined ministry, as well as:

the foreign ministry, a Ministry of Economic Affairs now enhanced with an energy policy mandate, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Family Affairs.

It also gets a Vice Chancellorship.

With six of 15 ministers, the SPD has 40% of the cabinet. The coalition parties control just under 80% of the seats in the Bundestag. The SPD has about 30% of the seats, which corresponds to 38% of the cabinet’s parliamentary basis. So it is represented in cabinet at very slightly above its contribution to the cabinet’s collective Bundestag representation.

How common are party membership ballots to ratify coalition agreements?

3 thoughts on “The SPD vote on joining German coalition

  1. In Belgium, a coalition is always sanctioned by ‘congresses’ of every joining party in which every party member may attend. It’s not a postal ballot like SPD, but a Belgian party will have fewer member than SPD. Such conresses have never said ‘no’ but the degree of the yes vote is very significant (ranging from unanimity to a doubtful 57%)

    Questions like these are answered in ‘Coalition Governments in Western Europe’ (Oxford U. Press, edited by W. Müller and K. Strøm)

    • Coincidentally, 57% was the voting support for King Leopold in the 1950 referendum: he nonetheless abdicated because he thought it was too low to allow him to continue on the throne. (Cue the Constitutional Pesant scene from Mointy Python). 57% was also insufficient to adopt STV in British Columbia in 2009.

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