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Germany

Germany's Social Democrats Struggle to Shake Off Crisis

Germany's Social Democrats ruled out working with a far left party after next year's federal election as they sought a way out of an internal crisis Saturday which has sent their popularity plunging.

SPD flags

Germany's SPD hope to draw a line under damaging rows that have riven the party

Speaking to some 3,000 delegates gathered in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg on Saturday, May 31 for a party congress, the leader of Germany's embattled Social Democratic Party (SPD), Kurt Beck said there was no way the party would form a future national government with The Left Party, an anti-reform group that includes disaffected former Social Democrats and former East German communists.

Kurt Beck with Gesine Schwan

Beck, right, with Gesine Schwan, the SPD's candidate for German president

"There is no question of forming a government with (The Left), nor any acceptance of support from it, because this party is totally at odds with our basic convictions," Beck said.

Flirting with The Left

The SPD, a member of Angela Merkel's ruling left-right coalition, is grappling with a huge popularity slump amid internal bickering over economic policy and the party's future course.

On Friday, an opinion poll showed only 21 percent of Germans would vote for the party in next year's general election, the lowest score since taking office with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Union in November 2005. Merkel's conservatives were at 42 percent.

Leading SPD officials have flirted with The Left Party, which has seats in 10 of Germany's state parliaments and is seen as a growing force on the political scene, turning off many mainstream voters, angering centrist Social Democrats and risking its credibility.

Oskar Lafontaine and Lothar Bisky of The Left Party

Leaders of The Left Party who have shaken up the political scene

Beck himself sparked a massive row in February when he sanctioned state-level cooperation with The Left, which opposes economic reform and German troop deployments abroad and is in favor of renationalization.

On Saturday, in an attempt to draw a line under the disputes, Beck vowed the SPD would not entertain any notion of cooperating with The Left.

"After 2009, there cannot be any formation of a government with or toleration of this grouping (The Left)," Beck said, adding there were huge policy differences from foreign affairs to economics.

On Saturday, Beck railed against The Left's planned "spending orgy" in social policies, saying the party promised voters everything.

The SPD wants to lower the social security contributions of low-earners and make up for the budgetary shortfall by raising taxes for the wealthy.

Looking for a "new direction"

On Saturday, Beck indicated his preference for the Free Democrats, a traditional coalition partner of the SPD, who are also being courted by Merkel's party.

"We are not closing any doors, we are deliberately opening them," Beck said.

Zukunftskonvent SPD Nürnberg

A participant of the SPD party congress turned up in a show-stopping hairstyle

Media reports say the SPD has also agreed that it will be foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and not Beck who will be the SPD candidate for chancellor against Merkel in the September 2009 elections.

This week, the SPD put forward its own candidate for German president, a move that has worsened relations with Merkel's conservatives who want a second term for Horst Koehler.

"It is clear to us all that we must not have a repetition of the last weeks and months," SPD General-Secretary Hubertus Heil told N-24 television. "Now we are looking ahead, the new direction starts here in Nuremberg."

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