BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party is rejecting a root-and-branch renegotiation of the agreement underpinning Germany’s government after the junior coalition partner elected leaders who want new concessions, but it was unclear Monday how acute the risk is of the coalition falling apart.
Members of the center-left Social Democrats on Saturday chose left-leaning duo Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken as their new leaders. They rejected a rival team that included Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz and strongly favored staying in Merkel’s coalition.
Walter-Borjans and Esken are more skeptical, though they haven’t advocated a quick exit. They have suggested renegotiating issues such as the level of the minimum wage, climate protection and investment, but it’s unclear how far their demands will go.
A party congress starting Friday is likely to show what the Social Democrats want to achieve to stay in the coalition, nearly two years before the next election is due. The party is mired in a long-term poll slump, which some blame on its status as Merkel’s junior partner for 10 of the past 14 years.
Merkel’s Union bloc has made clear that it sees no need for a significant overhaul. The coalition deal thrashed out last year features a provision for a midterm review including consideration of whether “new plans must be agreed in light of current developments.”
The leader of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told ZDF television Monday the new leadership doesn’t amount to a major change “as a result of which we have to completely renegotiate a coalition.”
The coalition agreement “is the basis on which we are working, and it is valid for the whole parliamentary term,” she said. “We are concentrating on dedicating ourselves to work of substance — we are not a therapy facility for the coalition parties.”
She noted that both the other parties in the coalition have changed their leaders since the government took office without demanding a renegotiation.
While she and other conservatives are firmly ruling out a radical renegotiation, it’s possible that there may be some room for talks that fall short of that — and unlikely that the Union will want to be seen as responsible for the coalition collapsing.
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, also made clear that the chancellor is willing to talk about new ideas “as is usual in a coalition, but a renegotiation of the coalition agreement is not pending.”
If the Social Democrats did decide to walk out, it’s unclear what would happen. Merkel’s bloc could seek to carry on in a minority government or, theoretically at least, negotiate an alternative coalition; or the result could eventually be an early election.
Merkel has said that this is her last term and she won’t run in the next election, currently due in the fall of 2021.