Nahles' resignation: why is the SPD so weak?

A trio consisting of the two state premiers Manuela Schwesig and Malu Dreyer and the party leader in the state of Hesse, Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, are to lead the SPD on an interim basis. The SPD's leader Andrea Nahles resigned on Sunday after the party suffered a historic defeat in the EU elections. According to commentators the causes for Nahles's failure do not lie solely with the SPD.

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Deutsche Welle (RO) /

Merkel shamelessly encroached on SPD territory

Merkel bears partial responsibility for the SPD's crisis, writes the Romanian service of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle:

“Merkel made many a compromise to secure her grip on power, which she attained thanks to the harsh job market reform that was introduced by former SPD leader Schröder and which paradoxically weakened the SPD. ... She turned her back on the CDU's values and Christian-conservative voter base and switched to progressive and politically-correct positions. Once there, she shamelessly adopted a growing number of social-democratic positions and successfully attracted new voters. ... Thus began the historic decline of the SPD, a mass organisation that produced famous chancellors such as Willy Brandt and which has now lost not only its leader but also the equilibrium it drew from its centrist position.”

De Tijd (BE) /

Punishment for technocratic government style

De Tijd names another reason why the chancellor is not entirely free of blame in the Social Democrats' current crisis:

“The European voters have delivered a blow. ... They have punished the technocrats of the centre. A style of government that no longer leads, but only manages. This was Merkel's hallmark. ... For a long time Germany was a stable democracy for historical reasons. This is why the change there is so unusual. The claim that the classic division between left and right is over seems to have been confirmed. The question is whether a viable brand of politics remains between the centre and the extremes.”

Iswestija (RU) /

Decline began as early as 1966

The recent years of grand coalitions have merely completed a process of decline in the SPD that began much earlier, political scientist Evgenia Pimenova writes in Izvestia:

“During its years as the CDU's junior partner, at the mental level the party's elite basically morphed into government officials who had lost touch with the real agenda and the political will of their voters. ... However, the undermining of the Social Democratic Party's principles started with the formation of the first grand coalition in 1966. ... Both partners were forced to adapt to one another. The erosion of the SPD's socialist and leftist ideas led to the rise of new forces that pursued those items on the programme which the increasingly centrist SPD bitterly lacked. This led to the emergence of the Greens and The Left party, which occupied this niche in the political arena.”

Spiegel Online (DE) /

Nothing to lose now

The SPD must renew itself from top to bottom, Spiegel Online argues:

“In terms of personnel that's the obvious choice. ... In terms of its programme there's a chance it can make it clearer - and more radical. In this new era every party needs a core identity if it wants to be noticed. One can always gripe about the growing desire for clarity. But to pretend it doesn't exist is not a strategy. The Greens face the same task regarding their social and economic policy. ... And strategically Nahles's resignation means: it's time to quit the grand coalition. ... Of course new elections are risky. But the SPD no longer has anything to lose. As crazy as it may sound: that's its big opportunity.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Who the SPD can learn from

The SPD should look to other countries in Europe in its quest for a successful strategy for the future, Die Presse recommends:

“The Danish Social Democrats are currently on a successful populist course. They are following the wishes of their traditional voter base, adopting a restrictive course in foreign policy while at the same time accentuating the leftist elements in its economic policy. This will probably lead them to victory in the parliamentary elections on Wednesday. ... It can also be effective to reach out to urban voters and leave broad sections of the working classes to the right. But for that the Social Democrats have to be convincing on an individual level. With Andrea Nahles or Martin Schulz the SPD needn't even try to make inroads in the green-urban milieu. In Spain, meanwhile, the leader of the Socialists, Pedro Sánchez, succeeded in doing this at least in the European elections”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Last thing the EU needs is a crisis in Berlin

A collapse of the Merkel government is the last thing Europe needs now, writes Jutarnji list:

“There are EU members whose domestic crises can rock the entire EU. Germany is one of them, above all when important decisions on Europe's future need to be made. Without a stable and strong German government at a time when other countries have no government at all, their government has just resigned or the country is waiting for a new one - as in Austria, Finland and Belgium - the EU has a problem. And the EU needs the name of the next Commission president in the next three weeks, as well as those for the four other key positions: President of the European Council, of the Parliament, of the Central Bank and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. ... Berlin plays an important role in the selection of the candidates.”

Svenska Dagbladet (SE) /

Farewell, stable Germany

Germany faces immense challenges, Svenska Dagbladet stresses:

“Not only is there a risk of new elections - perhaps after the state elections this fall in the east of the country, in which the AfD is expecting record results - but there is also a whole slew of other explosive conflicts simmering beneath the surface. ... The nuclear power plants are to be shut down in two years and coal-fired energy is to be phased out entirely by 2038. Just how one of the biggest industrial nations in the world is supposed to survive such a transformation is unclear. ... The car industry faces huge changes that will cost tens of thousands of jobs. And the infrastructure is obsolete. ... It's by no means clear that Germany will not be able to master these challenges. But it won't be easy, not least because this is all taking place against the backdrop of a radically changing party landscape.”