Guest post by Judith Meyer
Last night, Angela Merkel said in an interview that she'd be ready to lead a minority government in Germany if the SPD base rejects the coalition agreement. So far, she and the CDU always said that they would call for new elections. This is big:
The threat of calling new elections was their main deterrent
- for SPD MPs & related workers who are afraid of losing their seats (because the SPD poll results are currently much worse than the last election results)
- for SPD base members who don't want to witness the ignominy of their party losing its status as Germany's second biggest party
- for people who are afraid of AfD getting more seats in a new election, or
- for people who think it's irresponsible and undemocratic to send the voters back to the polls.
Removing this threat now presumably means that a lot more SPD members will feel free to vote against the Grand Coalition. This is borne out on Twitter, many people are posting things like "I was undecided but now I know how to vote", and of course the young socialists already started hammering this message (that a No is not a catastrophe, despite previous scaremongering from the SPD leadership) on all channels. They will have more opportunities to do so during their city tour over the next weeks.
Why would Merkel remove this threat?
Possible explanation 1: She loves to commission secret polls, so maybe she is reacting to one of the survey companies coming back with the message that the SPD base is likely to reject the coalition agreement. German news have created an expectation, helped by her previous words, that the end of the Grand Coalition would also be the end of her chancellorship. Usurpers are already lining up; she is getting urged to name the next generation. So this way she can lay claim to another period in office no matter whether the SPD rejects the coalition or not. If she wants to keep working with the SPD this would also work out: the SPD leaders could honour the letter of the results by not entering a Grand Coalition, while breaching the spirit of the results by voting with a CDU minority government on most of the issues covered in the coalition treaty. The SPD leadership had previously (was it December or November?) thought along those lines, inventing a kind of coalition that is less than a Grand Coalition but more than a minority government, with a treaty outlining how to vote on only the most important items and allowing the parties to diverge on other issues.
Possible explanation 2: She is actively sabotaging the Grand Coalition now because the resistance in the CDU to the agreement has been so strong. Some CDU people said that it's just as well a CDU party assembly has to approve the treaty (they may reject it, but tend to be a docile lot), because it would not be certain to pass if there was an all-member vote among CDU members as there is among SPD members. She might have even given the SPD so many important ministries (controlling well more than half of the government's budget), and nothing in terms of policy, in order to provoke in-fighting and intentionally letting the Grand Coalition agreement be downvoted. Though this last bit is probably a bit far-fetched, her actively wishing to sabotage the Grand Coalition at this point, with all the backlash that happened in both parties, and with the ministry assignment being back up in the air, is thinkable.