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Press Review: Bizarre Spectacle of German Politics

DW staff (tt)November 1, 2005

The German press reacted with bafflement to Franz Müntefering's decision to step down as SPD leader, since the untimely power struggle within SPD could only destabilize the future government. If one is formed, that is.

Müntefering seems ready to vanish from the SPD's leadershipImage: AP

The Financial Times Deutschland from Hamburg described Müntefering's stepping down as a "bizarre spectacle" with potentially serious consequences. "In its strategic confusion, SPD accidentally knocked over its party president, who was willing and supposed to lead the party into the grand coalition. The fall of Franz Müntefering is the worst possible accident for SPD, and it also batters the future coalition, before it even got to be formed properly. The chancellor-to-be Angela Merkel is suddenly left without a vice-chancellor who could keep his party in line with the coalition."

Merkel, Schröder und Müntefering lachend vor Koalitionsgesprächen
With Müntefering gone, who will Merkel rely on as her vice-chancellor?Image: AP

In a similar vein, the Berlin daily taz described Müntefering's departure as a "misfortune for the SPD, which has already been disheveled by Schröder's ego trips. Müntefering epitomizes better than anybody else the social-democratic virtues: reliability and unpretentiousness. Who should now present the painful cost-cutting policy to SPD in a trustworthy manner -- a technocrat like (Finance Minister-designate) Peer Steinbrück? Hardly. The whole construction of the grand coalition may break down without Müntefering. That would be a victory of the irrational over the rational. SPD doesn't seem to understand itself these days."

Questioning the sanity of it all

Andrea Nahles
Andrea Nahles: future SPD secretary general?Image: AP

The popular German tabloid Bild came out on Tuesday morning with a picture of Franz Müntefering on its title page and the headline "Are you politicians crazy?" Stressing the fact that "politicians without power" would be participating in the coalition negotiations with the "helpless" Angela Merkel, Bild commented on Müntefering's pulling out as a bad omen: "This is bad for SPD, it's bad for further coalition negotiations, and, therefore, bad for the country… Franz Müntefering was anything but an easy partner for CDU/CSU. But with the old-school 'leftie' from North Rhine-Westphalia, one was reasonably certain that there could be no Red-Red-Green (coalition between SPD, former communist Left party and the Green party). Since yesterday, no CDU politician would be willing to bet on it."

Neue Presse from Hanover emphasized the self-destructive nature of the SPD inner politics: "The result of this impressive demonstration of the social-democratic joy of losing is the total chaos in the now leaderless SPD. And, what's even worse, in Berlin. The timidly sprouting hopes for a thriving government cooperation of the two big parties are again called into question. The grand coalition is in crisis before it even started. The would-be-vice-chancellor Müntefering is at a breaking point. Stoiber, still a wanna-be-minister, is threatening to walk out. And Angela Merkel must get worried again about her chancellorship. If the coalition negotiations fail because of the comrades, new elections would be the most realistic consequence. It's slowly getting spooky in Germany."

Reality check

Er mag nicht ohne Schröder
Time to say one's good-byes?Image: AP

Die Welt from Berlin saw Müntefering's departure as a clear signal of the degree to which SPD is divided internally: "Like a bolt from the allegedly blue sky, SPD found out yesterday that the alliance with the Union (CDU/CSU) still called for a decision to be made on the party direction: It is the choice between moderate modernization and traditional utopia; between the Social Democratic center of Gerhard Schröder and a possible parliamentary majority on the far left. Franz Müntefering deftly covered up the issue after the elections. In his own person, he wanted to take up the conflict of positions and solve it: as the SPD president and vice-chancellor in the cabinet, along with close confidants in the parliamentary group and party headquarters. With Andrea Nahles as the secretary general, the party leadership destroyed this hope, which was already bordering on self-illusion."