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Merkel meets new SPD leaders amid coalition tensions

December 12, 2019

The new Social Democrat leaders Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans said after their election that the ruling coalition with Merkel's CDU party "cannot continue." The pair were then criticized by CDU leadership.

 Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday received the two new leaders of the Social Democrats (SPD), who last week called into question their party's ruling coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

The new SPD co-chairs, Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans, were chosen by party members over more establishment candidates, signalling a desire to move the party more to the left.

Esken and Walter-Borjans' criticism of the coalition had prompted fears of a possible government collapse and early elections. However, the pair tentatively walked back their comments after the party voted against a motion to quit the partnership at their national convention over the weekend.

Instead they are opting for new talks with the CDU where they intend to press for reformslike a higher minimum wage and more robust climate change iniatives.

They also want to overhaul the unemployment benefit system known as Hartz IV.

"We were the party that introduced Hartz IV, we are the party that overcomes Hartz IV," said Esken.

The meeting with Merkel was a closed-door coffee reception and there were no indications that they would speak to the press afterwards.

Merkel sucessor calls SPD 'selfish'

The duo are set to meet with CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer next week, who recently called them "selfish" in an interview. Kramp-Karrenbauer accused them of trying to resuscitate the SPD amidst historically low support instead of thinking what was best for Germany.

They will also meet with Markus Söder, the leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU. Ahead of the election of Esken and Walter-Borjans as party leaders, Söder derided the SPD as victims of "lasting depression."

The SPD is Germany's oldest political party, but since the 2017 general election has posted a number of record-low numbers in regional elections and national polls.

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.