The SPD wants to continue to rule, after the next elections, please, without the Union. But the party is deeply in crisis. So how should that work? A delicate strategy emerges.
No, he doesn’t want to put the Schröder on this fence anyway. SPD leader Norbert Walter-Borjans attends the top ceremony of a social construction project in Düsseldorf. He has to pose in front of a construction fence. “Not that close,” shouts a photographer. Walter-Borjans is moving. “Don’t shake the fence,” he says and laughs to himself. Not like former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder once rattled the gate of the Chancellery.
A joke in difficult times. But not alone.
Because the SPD finally wants to get back in there – to the chancellery. But shaking is not enough. The party agreed with surprisingly little noise on a candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Only so that enough voters can convince themselves and the SPD do they need a power option.
And that’s where it gets complicated. The SPD has a threefold problem. And now it looks like it’s starting a delicate electoral strategy.
1. No majority, nowhere – until now
The first and most serious problem becomes tangible as you join the SPD leaders on their summer tour in North Rhine-Westphalia this week. If local elections take place here in mid-September, it is not questionable whether the SPD will lose town halls and votes. The only question is how many there will be. And that in the “heart chamber of the social democracy”.
The SPD must catch up if it wants to have a chance to rule after the general election next year. And not too close. In surveys, it’s still about 15 percent, despite diligent government policies, despite the popular chancellor candidate. The great distance to the Union has grown in the Corona crisis, up to 38 percent are currently said to vote for the CDU / CSU. And the Greens are still consistently ahead of the Social Democrats. A government majority outside the Union? Currently does not exist.
The SPD will therefore have to acquire a special kind of voter in the coming months: the CDU – because of Merkel voters. The Chancellor will not run for the next election. And if everyone knows about this who voted for the Union for that reason alone, some can turn to other parties. At least that’s the theory, the hope. The problem for the SPD: the left, the FDP and especially the Greens will court these people.
Who will take the CDU because of Merkel voters? That will be one of the most important questions of the election campaign.
2. Who is afraid of red socks?
But it is not the only problem for the SPD. So that more people vote for the party again, it must be able to convey convincingly that a vote is not a lost vote for the SPD. So you need a realistic way of co-government after the elections.
Nobody in the SPD wants another grand coalition. Twelve years as an undervalued junior partner is enough, most see it. But then what? Not much remains. Even theoretically.
The SPD could rule with the Greens and the FDP. To do this, the FDP would have to come to the Bundestag – and then agree a coalition agreement with the SPD and the Greens. Conceivable. But difficult.
The SPD boss in a former swimming pool in Krefeld: How does the SPD come out low from the polls? (Source: Rolf Vennenbernd / dpa)
That leaves the second and last possible option for the SPD: a left-wing government majority with the Greens and the Left Party. Red-red-green. Or green-red-red. Conceivable, even better conceivable. But also difficult.
In terms of content, this alliance would have a lot in common. But not everyone on the left has decided to even want to rule in the federal government. And especially in foreign and European policy, there are positions that are not acceptable to the SPD and the Greens. The fact that even the SPD does not dare to openly pursue this alliance and thereby try to create an atmosphere of change is not only due to this. It’s also because of red socks.
When the SPD leadership recently indicated that it could propose a coalition with the Greens and the Left, Union politicians immediately warned against Sodom and Gomorrah if the successor to the SED would come to power. The 90s red sock campaign was back. And it could become a problem, especially in the competition for the CDU from Merkel voters. Merkel first and then communism? This horror scenario could be a bit too much for some.
After it seemed so far that the SPD leadership in particular was clearly aiming for red-red-green, they are now choosing their words a bit more carefully. “Our clear goal is to become so strong that we can lead a government,” SPD chief Walter-Borjans told Chillreport during the summer tour in North Rhine-Westphalia. “We want to form a progressive government.” He doesn’t want to commit to whether that could work with the FDP or with links.
To keep other options open. But also because of the red socks.
3. The Greens could not play
The Greens are also aware of the problem with the red socks. They also want the CDU because of Merkel voters. They too may have to fear for them if the party is too open to the left.
But the Greens have one more reason to worry the SPD. Because if the Greens send out veiled signals about which coalition they would like best after the elections, they are more likely to send them to the Union than to the SPD. They are also aware of this in the SPD, even though the Greens are not officially ruling out any coalition other than the one with the AfD.
The Greens could decide against the SPD – and for the Union.
When in doubt, they would easily find reasons for this. A three-party coalition is usually more vulnerable than a two-party alliance. The FDP is finding itself and has traditionally been a long way from it. And on the left, quite a few are calling for a withdrawal from NATO and some for a farewell from the EU.
But can the Greens reject the Red-Red-Green election if possible? If the SPD was stronger and the chancellor delivered, more likely yes. If the Greens could supply the chancellor, probably no.
But that wouldn’t be good news for the SPD either.