After disastrous election results, the German Social Democrats initially wanted to reinvent the party in the opposition. Now they are talking again to Merkel’s CDU. Michel Friedman meets Deputy Chairman Ralf Stegner.
"If we don't come together at all, we will have new elections," the SPD’s Deputy Chairman Ralf Stegner has told DW.
"I'm skeptical about this, more skeptical than the other people in my party. (…) We will see what happens in negotiations," Stegner said, referring to the exploratory talks between the SPD and conservatives which began after Merkel failed to form a coalition with the liberal FDP and Greens. The Social Democrats agreed to the talks but party leaders insist the rank and file will have to approve another go at a coalition at special party congress in Bonn on January 21.
If the SPD again joined a coalition, that would leave the role of opposition leader to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Stegner also admitted that fresh elections would boost support for the AfD. The party achieved a record 12.6 percent in the September general elections. Stegner said: "I'm very skeptical about a new grand coalition because it strengthens the right wing. One of the bad consequences would be that the leader of the opposition wouldn’t be Mr. Lindner, Mr. Özdemir or Ms. Wagenknecht, but would be Mr. Gauland, the right wing populist."
He also appealed to politicians' responsibility to their voters: "You can't tell voters [to] vote until the point when we are content with the result. That cannot be. That's not the concept of democracy. Voters have decided and now it's our part to take responsibility."
No opposition, no reinvention?
After the elections in September where the SPD suffered its worst electoral defeat of the post-war era (20.5 percent), party chairman Martin Schulz ruled out another grand coalition with Merkel and called for the SPD to renew itself: "We the Social Democrats are in a very bad state. We have to reinvent the party."
Ralf Stegner is the SPD deputy chairman and has been leader of the SPD in Schleswig-Holstein since 2007.
Stegner also admitted: "It is much easier to take this reform process in a time when you're in opposition. But it's not our choice, it's the other parties who failed and we have responsibility for this country. And we always took responsibility for the country." Four months after people went to the polls, that responsibility is increasingly looking like there will be a second grand coalition.
Merkel's preferred coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens collapsed after lengthy coalition talks when FDP leader Christian Lindner walked out. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had ruled out new elections and called on all parties to find a solution. Schulz had then agreed to reconsider. At the SPD's party conference in early December, members were divided about whether to take another run at governing with the CDU. The party’s youth wing is largely against the idea and favors the opposition.
"Life is not black and white. And sometimes the choices you have are not wonderful and bad but bad and very bad," Stegner said about whether or not his party will agree to become Merkel’s junior partners.
New elections 'last resort'
"Well, [Merkel] may not want to but we will have to talk about different ways to cooperate. One of it is coalition government, another is changing majorities, a third one would be a minority government. […] New elections can only be the last resort," Ralf Stegner re-emphasized on Conflict Zone.
Stegner also had a warning for Merkel. "When they lose power they will replace her."
Until a decision has been made whether the SPD forms another coalition with the conservatives, Germany will keep going with a caretaker government. It took 86 days to form a grand coalition under Merkel in 2013, the current situation has already broken that record.