THE WORLD FROM BERLIN
SPD Gives Green Light to Regional Coalitions with Left Party
Germany's Social Democrats have been dogged all year by their indecision on whether to cooperate with the Left Party. Now SPD leader Franz Müntefering has made clear he supports regional tie-ups between the parties. Commentators say it's an overdue step to boost the SPD's power base.
SPD Party chairman Franz Müentefering is readying the party for elections in 2009.
Germany's center-left Social Democrat Party has been plagued all year by an internal dispute over whether to cooperate with the Left Party, made up of ex-communists and disenchanted former SPD members who quit in protest at the SPD's rightward shift in the last five years.
The Left Party is controversial because of its roots in the communist party that ruled East Germany and because of its categorical positions on economic and foreign policy. For example, it is opposed in principle to all German military missions abroad.
The SPD's about-face in the regional state of Hesse, where it initially refused outright to cooperate with the Left Party before changing its mind after the January 2008 election, did serious damage to the party's poll ratings and even cost SPD chairman Kurt Beck his job.
Now Beck's successor as party chairman, Franz Müntefering, has made clear that he has no problem with alliances at the regional level between the two parties.
"If we manage to have more Social Democrat governors it would help us more than it damages us," Müntefering told Stern magazine in an interview. He said he had no problem with such alliances in Thuringia or Saarland, two of the regional states which are holding elections in 2009 just before the national election in September. "I'm not afraid of that."
He also said he would resist forming a coalition with the Left Party at the national level. He would aim instead for a coalition with the Greens or with the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats. The SPD right now is the junior coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats.
Several German media commentators say it makes sense for the SPD to end the debate over the Left Party and to focus on boosting its power base.
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Just like his luckless and much-criticized predecessor Kurt Beck, Müntefering regards functioning coalitions between the SPD and Left Party as a precondition for a return of the Social Democrats to power -- in the regional states, that is. But such alliance would indirectly also benefit the SPD at a national level. At present it has only four SPD state governors, and only two of them rule in a large state. This quartet barely registers as a force at the national level."
Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"At last party leader Franz Müntefering has made things clear. If the same declaration had been made a year ago, the SPD would have been saved itself a lot of trouble -- the disaster in Hesse, and much of the agony surrounding then-leader Kurt Beck.
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"Müntefering's argument comes late but it is correct and honest. Politics is above all about power, because power is the precondition for getting policies implemented. It's good that the SPD is now being open about this power option rather than skirting around it."
"But this clarification poses the next question, and it will trouble the SPD right up until the general election: How well founded is the party's categorical refusal to cooperate with the Left Party at a national level? Why doesn't the SPD formulate five clear political principles, including the readiness to take part in military missions, which any coalition between the two parties would have to fulfill?"
"Then the Left Party and not the SPD would have to justify its refusal to enter into an a cooperation, and would maybe shoulder the responsibility if the election doesn't lead to a change in government."
Conservative daily Die Welt is skeptical:
"The general election has apparently already been written off (by the SPD), and the aim is to secure its power base in the regional states with the help of the Left Party. What will remain of the SPD after that, in terms of policy, is another question."
David Crossland, 11:45 a.m. CET