SPD leadership: shift to the left for renewal?

In Germany, SPD party members have elected a new leadership. In a surprise outcome Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans prevailed against Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz. The two newcomers want to take the struggling party in a more leftist direction. Commentators are concerned, or in some cases delighted, at the prospect of this new course resulting in the collapse of the coalition government with the CDU and CSU.

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Público (PT) /

Europe will benefit

The prospect of the grand coalition in Germany soon being history is good news, also also in view of Germany's EU presidency in the second half of 2020, Público comments with enthusiasm:

“We could end up with a Green German presidency at exactly the right time, namely when a European plan to combat climate change - which could also serve to revive the continent's economy - is being discussed. If the Greens were to form a coalition government with the Left, the European Green Deal could become a genuine Green New Deal. That would mean adding a proper social pillar to the environmental pillar, as with Roosevelt's New Deal back in the 1930s.”

Sega (BG) /

SPD and CDU not ready for new elections

Sega sees an early end to the grand coalition as highly unlikely:

“There are serious differences of opinion in Germany's governing coalition. Tensions are running high in the CDU and its sister party the CSU and among the Social Democrats, and collaboration between the parties is suffering as a result. ... Despite the change of leadership in the CDU and SPD, and despite strong statements from both camps indicating that they can no longer govern together, there will be no radical changes for the time being. Both the SPD and the CDU are trying to appease their dissatisfied voters with increasingly radical messages. At the same time both sides know very well that they aren't ready either for new elections or for a minority government.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

The proletariat is irrelevant nowadays

Social democracy is in its final throes in Germany, Gazeta Wyborcza writes:

“Support for the SPD has dwindled to 15 percent. This is partly due to changes in German society, because ever since the party was founded 150 years ago its voters have come from the oppressed proletariat. But today the proletariat plays practically no role in political life. Modern city dwellers with progressive views who once voted for the SDP now vote for the Greens, while dissatisfied rural populations have shifted their allegiances to the far-right Alternative for Germany.”

Der Freitag (DE) /

Social Democrats giving themselves a chance

Der Freitag sees a distinct possibility of a fresh start for the SPD:

“Two leaders who are completely free of suspicion of belonging to the old leadership cliques, who have gained credibility with ideas for progressive digitalisation (Esken) and a determined battle against tax evasion (Walter-Borjans), offer the chance for this. ... The perseverance of those who do not want a new SPD is great and comes from having led the party unhindered to the abyss for years. It is now in their hands to avoid divisions, turmoil and irreconcilable differences. Can the supporters of Olaf Scholz be trusted to do this?”

Echo24 (CZ) /

Driving voters into the arms of the AfD

This shift towards the left on the part of the party once headed by Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder is a worrying development, Echo24 writes:

“The social democratisation of the CDU clearly hasn't been enough: now the SPD, which was once a party of the masses but is currently stalled at around 15 percent, is preparing itself mentally for a tough left-wing coalition with the Greens and Honecker's successors. Voters who don't want this will run to the so-called right-wing populists. This in turn will rouse the campaigners against populism and fascism, and a new round of cultural battles will begin. In Germany, all this could culminate in cooperation between the CDU and the AfD, which still seems unimaginable today. But perhaps - despite all the reservations about the nationalists in the AfD - it would be the last resort for a sensible policy in Berlin and in the EU.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Use opportunity to secure goals within coalition

Der Standard wonders whether the election of Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken as co-leaders of the SPD means the end of the grand coalition in Germany:

“Probably not, because for both coalition parties that would be tantamount to running amok politically. With the discussion about top candidate Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU/CSU is currently in a structural crisis similar to that of its junior partner. On the left, the Greens and the Left Party would benefit most from early elections while the newly restructured AfD would benefit most on the right. The SPD would do better to exploit the weakness of the Union to secure socio-political compromises such as the basic pension. The timing is favourable, but new elections would be grossly negligent in view of the advance of the right.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Greens would benefit from end of grand coalition

If the newly-elected SPD leadership really does withdraw from the grand coalition, the Social Democrats will become even less popular with voters, Večernji list predicts:

“If the grand coalition disintegrated, Germany would face a government crisis and most likely early elections next year, even if a political shakeup and a realignment of the CDU with the Greens - leaving the SPD even more marginalised - is not out of the question. The Greens have already replaced the SPD as the country's second-most-popular party. And apart from the expected internal strife, leaving the grand coalition could further reduce support for the SPD, which is already at an all-time low. The Greens would benefit the most from such a scenario.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Shift to the left as a lifeline

With a little patience the SPD's chosen course could pay off, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung writes:

“In the long term the change of course could be a lifeline for the SPD, or at least that's what the party's left wing hopes. With an anti-business shift to the left the party can hope to win votes back from the Greens. Although that wouldn't make the left wing as a whole considerably larger, it would be a significant improvement for an established party that's struggling to survive. If in addition Walter-Borjans and Esken succeed in luring back the low-wage workers, the long-term unemployed and other alienated voters lost to the AfD, red-red-green could make considerable gains. However, even with such manoeuvring it's not clear how the future SPD can manage to set itself apart from the Greens and the Left Party.”