June 4, 2019 / 7:01 AM / 16 days ago

Wobbly German coalition tries to show it can work after SPD crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats insisted on Tuesday that Angela Merkel’s government could function despite a crisis consuming their Social Democrat partners but warned her party would not buckle to SPD demands.

FILE PHOTO: Social Democratic Party (SPD) secretary general Lars Klingbeil arrives to a party faction meeting at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The Social Democrats named three caretakers on Monday to run the party after leader Andrea Nahles quit and members, appalled by their poor showing in elections, called for the end of their loveless alliance with Merkel.

“We still have a government capable of acting,” said Christian Democratic (CDU) chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

She said she had spoken to senior figures in the SPD and it was clear to her that the government’s work must not be affected by the centre-left party’s plight.

She pointed to an agreement just reached on an immigration law that has been dogged by disagreement for months. The law, due to be passed by the lower house on Friday, is designed to make it easier to deport rejected asylum seekers and for skilled migrant workers from outside the European Union to stay.

But Kramp-Karrenbauer made clear the CDU would not bow to pressure from the SPD in all areas, including on a basic pension for everyone who has paid into a pension pot for at least 35 years. They reject the conservatives’ demand for a means test.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said there would be “no horsetrading” of policies after SPD Secretary General Lars Klingbeil said the coalition needed to implement policies including on pensions and climate protection - to keep his party on board.

“What has an effect on the coalition is if the CDU does not get on with things and if we do not implement things,” he said. “Then it will get critical.”

One of Europe’s flagship centre-left parties, the SPD alternated power with the conservatives for generations but has been reduced to junior partners in coalition with Merkel.

In a European election on May 26, the SPD was pushed into third place with just 15.8 percent of the vote, its worst showing nationwide since democracy returned after World War Two.

Asked whether the coalition could still be intact at the end of the year, Klingbeil replied: “Why not?! We have a (coalition) agreement, we are executing it.”

The so-called “grand coalition” is due to run until 2021 but a mid-term review in the autumn could be an opportunity for the SPD to bolt. On Monday, the three caretakers said the party leadership would discuss their approach to the coalition on June 24.

If the SPD decides to withdraw, options include new elections, an even more unwieldy coalition of three party groups, or a minority conservative government.

One big problem for the SPD, languishing at all-time lows in opinion polls, is the surge of the Greens in Germany, the EU’s most populous country and economic powerhouse.

A Civey poll for Die Welt newspaper showed 43% of Germans would vote for Greens co-leader Robert Habeck as chancellor compared with 21% for Kramp-Karrenbauer. Merkel, chancellor for almost 14 years, has said she will not stand for a fifth term.

Additional reporting by Paul Carrel Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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