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Germany

SPD member vote 'not brilliant but courageous'

Political scientist and SPD party member Stefan Schieren tells DW why the Social Democrats' decision to allow party members to vote on the coalition agreement could also spell "disaster for the SPD."

DW: After a month of negotiations, Chancellor Merkel's Union of the CDU and CSU has agreed to form a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party. But it's not over yet, is it?

Stefan Schieren: No it isn't, because we have to wait for the votes of SPD members, and I think it's quite probable that they will decide in favor of the grand coalition, but it's not certain.

Wearing a dark suit and brown tie, Stefan Schieren looks at the camera in a professional photograph.

Stefan Schieren is a professor of social policy and a member of the SPD

It's very close. The election manifestos of the CDU and of the SPD were quite different, of course, and under those circumstances it's quite difficult to get to an agreement.

As an SPD member yourself, do you still think it was a good idea to leave the final say in the hands of party members? Couldn't the long negotiation process fall at the last hurdle because of this vote?

I don't think it was a brilliant idea, because it's quite uncertain - no one knows what the results will be. What's also very difficult to say is what would happen if SPD members vote against the grand coalition. That would be a disaster for the SPD. But I think it was a courageous decision.

I can't really explain myself what the reasons and motives were - I think the idea was to strengthen the participation of the SPD members. [In that sense] it's a good idea. But on the other [side], it's so complex to negotiate a coalition that it's not easy to pass this decision on to so many party members.

Do you feel a great responsibility for Germany as one of only a few hundred thousand people who are essentially deciding the nation's fate?

It's an important decision, but "fate" is too much. You shouldn't see it as 475,000 members deciding on it, since [without a vote by members] there would have been just 600 delegates voting at the conference.

This will be the broadest base for a coalition decision in German history. Never before have so many people decided such an important question.

Given the SPD's results in the September elections, are you pleased as a party with the way the talks went?

Pleased would be an exaggeration. It's quite difficult to reach an agreement, and of course, it must be a compromise. It's a compromise we can live with - and I can live with - but it's nothing to celebrate.

The SPD did win concessions on social policy, but the CDU/CSU has been fixed on not raising taxes. So who's going to pay for these concessions?

I worry that social security payments will rise as a consequence of these decisions. That wouldn't be a good result. They are [already] quite high, and people with low incomes suffer the most from such developments.

It's not a tax according to German tax law, but of course, it's like a tax.

The CDU and CSU will receive five and three ministerial posts respectively to the SPD's six. What are the SPD's outlooks?

Personally I'm in favor of the finance ministry, since that's the second most important job in the government. But we'll have to see. There's a strong person responsible for this department at the moment [ed. - Wolfgang Schäuble of the CDU], and I don't know - and don't think - that the Union will give that up easily.

I think [SPD Chairman Sigmar] Gabriel should go for a combined ministry of the economy and social security. And this ministry should also be responsible for energy policy. That would be quite a strong department.

Last week, Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper published a YouGov survey saying that SPD voters - as opposed to members - were only 49 percent in favor of a coalition. Another 44 percent were opposed. When members vote on December 14th, what do you think the results will be?

I think SPD members will vote in favor by quite a narrow margin.

Stefan Schieren is a professor of social policy at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt and chairman of his local SPD party branch.

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