′Lessons learned′: The SPD and a grand coalition | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.12.2013
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'Lessons learned': The SPD and a grand coalition

Sigmar Gabriel is the chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the man behind its recent revival. Political science professor Thorsten Faas tells DW what to expect from Gabriel and the SPD in a grand coalition.

Siegmar Gabriel, Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer

Gabriel (left) is considered a driving force in the SPD

DW: In the Social Democratic Party, opponents of a grand coalition worry their party could be trampled in a coalition with the CDU/CSU. What can the SPD do to ensure that doesn't happen?

Thorsten Faas: There are two historic examples of a grand coalition. Both had different results, and relevant lessons can be taken away from both. In the first grand coalition, from 1966 to 1969, Willy Brandt [then-SPD Chairman, Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister, as well as German chancellor starting in 1969] developed the SPD's own foreign policy profile, which made the party more attractive in the next elections.

During the last grand coalition, between 2005 and 2009, exactly that did not happen. Lessons were learned. The SPD negotiated hard. And that'll be the strategy of party chairman Sigmar Gabriel - to improve the image of the SPD such that, in four years at the latest, it can step up to voters with its own profile.

In his handling of coalition negotiations or the party member referendum, has SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel changed strategies?

Frank-Walter Steinmeier sits next to Angela Merkel in Germany's parliament.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the SPD's vice-chancellor from 2007-2009 during the last grand coalition

At the moment, people from all sides are attesting that Sigmar Gabriel has maneuvered the old SPD ship through difficult waters - from the election results in September to today. The chess game of pushing through a member referendum was also a success, in hindsight. He surely used the referendum to exact a few things from the CDU/CSU union. The member vote also revised the party. If he can carry that revival into the future work of governing and later elections, then he's positioned the SPD very successfully.

Was that Gabriel's final exam for the chancellor candidacy?

These developments give him a big boost against all other in-party competitors as we go into the next legislative session, so of course he's also the favorite for a potential chancellor candidacy in the next general elections. But then again, so much can happen between now and then. He has to prove himself in government first.

What does the SPD under Gabriel stand for?

He'll be tasked with keeping the party in line, and certainly with taking on certain corrections to the Agenda 2010. He'll guide the SPD left to some extent. Beyond that, his fundamental readiness to form a coalition with the Left Party has brought about a change in course.

What will be the focal points for a grand coalition?

The SPD will be very quick to push for putting minimum wage agreements into practice. With regard to large-scale digital data storage, that could be difficult, since a European Court of Justice rulingsaid this violates fundamental rights, and is therefore not implementable.

Political science professor Thorsten Faas smiles at the camera in a professional photograph taken outdoors.

Faas sees Gabriel as leading the SPD further left

The government has to find itself first. Most likely - Merkel is known for this - that'll happen relatively quickly. Right now I don't think that a small-scale war will break out immediately. And then, each of the two parties will try to establish their own emphasis.

How should it all be paid for?

One hopes, of course, that the economic situation in Germany continues to develop as it has thus far, since that gives some leeway for political measures. What is certain, however, is that increased expenditures and debt reduction with no increase in taxation is squaring a circle that the new government will not succeed at.

Thorsten Fass is a professor of political science at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

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