The future of Germany’s ruling coalition has been thrown into question on Saturday after the Social Democrats elected two new leaders from the left wing of the party who have said they want to renegotiate the terms of the government pact.
Norbert Walter-Borjans (67) and Saskia Esken (58) narrowly secured first place in the SPD leadership vote taking 53 percent of the ballot. They beat the expected winners Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and vice-chancellor, and Klara Geywitz by eight points in a second-round runoff.
Walter-Borjans, a former Finance Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia and Esken, an MP for Baden-Württemberg, were largely unknown to the general public when they declared their candidacy for the presidency of the party three months ago.
The two newly elected presidents campaigned on a left-wing ticket, highly critical of the far-right, inequality, and the ‘zero debt’ policy of the current coalition government. They’ve called for the minimum wage to be raised from 9 to 12 euros and voiced their support for the German branch of Fridays for future, the climate activism movement initiated by Greta Thunberg.
The succession raises uncertainty about the future of the ruling CDU-SPD coalition, weakened by the political twilight of Angela Merkel, who will step down in 2021 after fourteen years in power. It comes as a particular blow to Olaf Scholz who was one of the architects of the grand coalition and is widely seen as a vote of no confidence in him.
At a party congress in early December to officially invest the new leadership, activists will vote on the government’s mid-term record and on whether to maintain or exit the ruling alliance.
The SPD’s internal election was prompted by the resignation of Andrea Nahles after the European parliamentary elections last spring. The party, worn out by its participation in the government, had recorded the worst score in its history (15.8 percent).
The turmoil that now affects German politics reveals the deep divisions of a country in the midst of an economic slowdown and facing questions about its economic and social model. In the absence of reconciliation, the consequences could be also be serious for Europe given that Germany is due to take over the reins of the presidency of the EU in the second half of 2020.