There has been much opposition to Groko. Still, another Grand Coalition looms in Germany. Evan Sedgwick-Jell examines the reasons why
Order reigns in Berlin. After backtracking on their defiant promise to leave government and re-enter opposition, the collapse of the German Social Democrats’ credibility has been as rapid as it has been total. Five months after the elections, the SPD under Martin Schulz has ultimately caved in to the pressure to ‘take responsibility for the nation’.
The road to the grand coalition has been far from smooth. The dogged opposition of the Young Socialists (Jusos), the SPD’s youth wing, and their eloquent leader Kevin Kuehnert, has been a persistent thorn in the side of the German party. The campaign #NoGroko gained traction amongst the party rank-and-file, as well as the wider German public and those sympathetic to the SPD, who wish for a politics that offers key differences between the major parties. If June 2017 reintroduced polarisation into British politics, the emergence of a Grand Coalition points to precisely the opposite tendency in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The #NoGroko campaign resulted in an incredibly close call for the SPD at the extraordinary Party Conference in January, the delegates deciding only by 362 to 279 to enter negotiations. This unexpectedly close vote sent the party into talks with a bloody nose. On the other hand, the knowledge that the party basis was sceptical towards power-sharing certainly played a part in an unexpectedly strong showing from the SPD in the negotiations themselves (the outcome is to be voted upon by all party members, the results of which will be known by March).
The SPD managed to take the ministries of Labour, Education and Finance, though little ground was won in the key battlegrounds of family reunification for refugees, abolition of private health insurance and unfounded fixed-term employment contracts. The potential future ministers offer no cheer for the left, with Schulz, himself a right-winger heading to the Foreign Ministry, and Olaf Scholz, the neoliberal architect of Germany’s expanded low-wage sector through the Hartz VI reforms in 2003, looking set to head Finance. The party’s new leader will be former Minister of Labour, Andrea Nahles, who has moved a long way to the right since her early days on the left of the party, emerging as one of the key advocates of the Grand Coalition, and set to be a candidate for chancellor in 2021.
The other interesting thing about the outcome of the negotiations is that, compared to the strong showing of the SPD, how weak Merkel’s CDU appears in its aftermath. The party has gifted the Interior Ministry to its Bavarian sister party the CSU, guaranteeing a draconian migration policy and law and order approach to policing. Many are left asking themselves, what has the CDU itself got out of the deal?
The politics that exists currently in Germany is undoubtedly one that has been shaped by the party, yet as its project becomes the political status quo, Angela Merkel looks less like the mother of the nation, and more like a tired caretaker of a state that while successful, is riddled with social conflict and tension.
If the members of the SPD vote for the Grand Coalition, it is also clear that this will afford the proto-fascist AFD a role from which they will be able to capitalise on anti-political feeling in German society by presenting the Grand Coalition as a caricature of the epithet ‘all politicians are the same’.
As the status quo appears about to click back into place, EU heads of state get ready to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Yet the reasons that so many have expressed their opposition to the Grand Coalition (25,000 people have joined the SPD since January so as to vote against), will not disappear upon its creation. Germany’s suppression of wages through trade-union clientelism and low-wages unparalleled throughout the EU form the basis of its ascendancy as an exporter and allow it to have a huge trade surplus. The Federal Republic’s seeming success is built on the backs of the working class. The #NoGroko campaign itself has succeeded not only in terms of media saturation, but also in posing the question of what sort of society do people want to live in, or more simply, ‘is this all there is’?
In this sense the emergence of a larger movement to challenge German neoliberal capitalism’s stewardship via repeated Grand Coalitions in the wake of the forming of a government in the Federal Republic, becomes more visible on the political horizon.
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