Merkel’s coalition battles new crisis after EU vote debacle
Voters on Sunday handed her CDU party and its centre-left coalition partner the Social Democratic Party (SPD) their worst score in European election history while doubling support for the Greens amid rising fears over global warming.
The Greens snatched the second spot from the SPD, coming in just behind Merkel’s centre-right alliance of Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union.
Crucially, the environmental party took more than a million votes — including many from young people — from both the SPD and the CDU, according to a poll commissioned by public broadcaster ARD.
CDU party chief Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is poised to take over from Merkel when she steps down in 2021, conceded that the party had “lost massively among the younger voters” because it failed to proactively engage on issues like climate change that the generation cares about.
The party had also created a wrong “image that it was shifting to the right” in its bid to fight the challenge from the far-right anti-immigrant AfD party, she noted.
While focusing its energies on fending off the AfD, which in 2017 became Germany’s biggest opposition party, Merkel’s CDU instead found itself blindsided this time by youth-led anger centred on global warming.
The momentum for the green surge has been building up over months as the school strikes started last November by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, 16, caught the imagination of youth across the world.
The Greens were given a further boost in Germany by a prominent YouTuber called Rezo, whose online assault against Merkel’s coalition accusing it of failing to act to halt global warming went viral in the final days of the election campaign.
The CDU struggled for days to put out the fire, while Rezo upped the ante and released a joint call with 70 influential YouTubers telling their millions of followers to shun parties in Merkel’s coalition and the far-right AfD at the polls.
On Sunday, one in three under-30s picked the Greens, while only 13 percent of them voted for the CDU.
Among first-time voters, the Greens attracted 36 percent and the CDU 11 percent.
But if the CDU is in turmoil, its coalition partner SPD is finding itself in an even deeper crisis.
In a humiliating result for the SPD, it only attracted 7 percent of first-time voters — lagging behind even the satirical party Die Partei.
News weekly Der Spiegel judged that the coalition is “in danger” after Sunday’s drubbing.
“This instability can lead to a break-up at any time,” it said.
“The CDU and SPD are deeply insecure parties. If, for example, SPD leader (Andrea) Nahles were to fall, the question of the continued existence of the coalition would immediately arise.”
Merkel’s coalition has been fragile from the start. The SPD, which was stung by a beating in 2017, at the time initially sought to go into opposition.
But it was reluctantly coaxed into renewing a partnership with Merkel, even as many within the party remain wary of continuing to govern in her shadow.
With the SPD also losing the top spot Sunday in a long-time stronghold, the city-state of Bremen, rumblings of discontent against the party leadership could well grow louder.
Already ahead of the vote, Bild am Sonntag newspaper had quoted unnamed sources as saying that veteran politician Martin Schulz was ready to stand against Nahles when the parliamentary chief post comes up for renewal in September.
Slapping down the speculation, the SPD’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz warned that “calling for personal consequences would not help”.
Nahles herself has ruled out stepping down, saying that she will “fulfil the responsibility” that she has.
However, with three key state elections looming in the autumn in Germany’s ex-communist east — where the far-right is projected to make further gains — time is running out for the SPD to halt the voter haemorrhage.
“The debate about (staying in) the grand coalition is likely to pick up again in the SPD. It’s no longer about renewal but about the existence” of the party, said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.