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Merkel's government muddles on after SPD rules out abrupt exit

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
SDP co-chairs Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans previously said they were in favour of quitting the coalition. Photo: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Angela Merkel’s government looks set to muddle on into the second half of its four year term after the Social Democratic Party (SPD) rowed back their recent plans to seek an abrupt exit from the coalition with Merkel’s Conservatives (CDU).

On the first day of the three-day party conference, the Social Democrats dramatically dialled down demands to quit the government in an effort to try and shore up the troubled party.

Had they broken up the coalition, the CDU would have faced either continuing in a minority government or a snap election. An election would likely prove disastrous for the SPD right now, as they are polling fourth after the CDU, the Greens, and the Alternative for Germany.

On Friday afternoon, Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Eskens were officially confirmed as co-chairs in a party vote. The duo from the left wing of the party had previously said that they were in favour of quitting the loveless coalition in Berlin, but have now abandoned calls for such a radical move.

READ MORE: Germany’s Social Democrats meet amid calls to quit Merkel’s government

“I was, and am, skeptical about the future of this grand coalition,” said Esken. “But with this resolution, we give the coalition a realistic chance of continuing - no more, no less.”

As party members took the stage one after another on Friday to put forward their arguments about the future direction of the party, it became clear that the strong preference was to remain in the government and try to renegotiate parts of the coalition agreement. Members demanded more investment, higher minimum wage and more climate action—rather than become an opposition party in parliament.

The reluctance for the partnership with the CDU remains, but the party will, for now, try to force through their wished-for changes within the coalition.

The CDU for its part has said it has no intention of renegotiating the agreement. Leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said last week that the SPD could leave if they wanted, but the contract would not be changed.

Both of Germany’s centrist parties have bled support in recent years to the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany. However, the Social Democrats in particular have found themselves in total disarray, polling at about 15% support.

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