We'll give Merkel a chance, says new German SPD leader

  • Fri,6 Dec 2019 07:40:28 PM

BERLIN (Reuters) - The new co-leader of Germany's Social Democrats said on Friday she doubted that their coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives would survive but was ready to give it a chance.

SPD members last Saturday chose two critics of the coalition to jointly lead their party after months of turmoil and dismal performances in regional and European elections. Many party members want to quit government and rebuild in opposition.

"I was, and am, sceptical about the future of this grand coalition. But with this resolution, we give the coalition a realistic chance of continuing - no more, no less," new SPD co-leader Saskia Esken told a party conference.

Delegates will vote later on Friday on demands they will put to Merkel to stay in government, including tougher climate protection measures, an increase in the minimum wage and investment in infrastructure.

The conservatives say they will not renegotiate the 2018 coalition deal but the relatively modest demands set out by the SPD's new leaders appear to avoid a direct confrontation with Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc.

Esken drew loud applause from delegates when she said the minimum wage must rise to at least 12 euros an hour from 9.19 euros.

Her co-leader, Norbert Walter-Borjans, outlined a vision of a socially just country with clean air, digitalised industry and first-class education. Achieving this must take priority over rigidly adhering to self-imposed fiscal rules, he said.

Many conservatives are committed to achieving a balanced budget without issuing new debt.

"If we leave behind a lower debt level but the environment is poisoned, infrastructure is dilapidated and Germany has gone backwards technologically, it would be a far worse debt to hand on to the next generation," Walter-Borjans said.

 

"MILITARISATION OF FOREIGN POLICY"

He also rapped the conservatives' stance on defence, in particular that of Merkel protege Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

"When a defence minister who is also CDU chairwoman wants to see the Bundeswehr (Germany's armed forces) again deployed - as she innocently puts it - in as many places as possible in the world, that is utterly wrong... That is the militarisation of foreign policy," he said.

The delegates, drawn from all the federal states of Germany, formally endorsed last weekend's election by 426,000 SPD party members of Esken and Walter-Borjans as co-leaders.

They face a daunting task. An opinion poll on Thursday put the SPD on 13%, just off record lows and trailing the conservatives, Greens and far-right Alternative for Germany.

Ditching the coalition could trigger a snap election or a minority government, unattractive options for both ruling parties and for many Germans.

 

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