SPD Special Party Convention

by Jonas Wolframm
Five things to take away from yesterday’s SPD special party convention

Five things to take away from yesterday's SPD special party convention

Yesterday, the German Social Democrats (SPD) met in Bonn for a special party convention. The purpose of the event was to answer the question if the party is willing to enter coalition talks with the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) for the third time since 2005. In a thrilling vote, 362 of the 642 delegates voted for the uptake of the talks – backing the position of chairman and former top-candidate Martin Schulz and the party board. Here is what it really means:

Martin Schulz is weaker than ever

Even though Martin Schulz has managed to win this vote and save his political career, for now, his authority is vanishing at light speed. When Schulz entered the stage in Bonn to persuade the delegates to vote for his position, there was no spark, no verve, no enthusiasm – it was a lethargic appeal. A majority of the party has lost their confidence in him to lead the party out of its difficult times and the days when he was elected to his current position with a result of 100 percent of the vote seem a long-forgotten memory.

Andrea Nahles saved Martin Schulz

If not for Andreas Nahles’ powerful speech that steadied the ship for Martin Schulz, we would likely be talking about possible dates for snap elections and Mr. Schulz may have been out of a job. The party convention was in a critical moment when the former Minister of and current head of the parliamentary group at the Bundestag entered the stage. During the open debate which followed after Schulz´s unimpactful initial speech, the opponents of a coalition managed to swing the momentum to their side. Above all, the speech of Kevin Kühnert, chair of the youth section (Jusos) and a relentless no-campaigner during the last few weeks, earned lengthy applause. At that point in time, things were not looking good for the leadership of the party. Judging by their faces, Schulz and the other board members were seriously worried. But then Nahles stepped in and gave the speech of a lifetime. With a defiant plea, she managed to swing the momentum once again.

This thing is far from over

Everybody who thinks that after this decision, Germany will certainly have another grand coalition for the next three and a half years should take a few minutes to consider the current reality because the whole process of coalition building it is far from over. Even though the left wing of the party and the Jusos have not managed to halt coalition talks this time, their efforts have led to increased pressure for negotiators to bring home substantial results. If they don´t, chances are high that the party base will put an end to this drama in its final vote over the coalition treaty. On top of it, opponents of the party leadership have now seen how close it was. They will double their efforts to stop a coalition which – in their point of view – is likely to further undermine the trust of voters.

The careers of Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz are now intertwined with each other

Even if nobody officially said so, it was clear that Schulz would have had to resign in case of a no-vote. But also, Angela Merkel is in a difficult position at the moment. She now knows that it will be crucial to give more than some small concessions to the SPD if she wants to give Schulz the chance to persuade the members of his party on the final coalition agreement. If she cannot manage to do so, her fourth term will be in serious jeopardy, since critical voices in her party are gaining volume and it is far from clear if the party would nominate her again in case of snap elections. Alas, it remains an open question how much authority she has left to bring the right wing of the CDU/CSU in line.

At least the SPD won some sympathy points for her open style of debate

Although discussions were heated at some points of the debate, it was refreshing to see an open and fair exchange of arguments. During the event, the party got many positive comments on Twitter for the transparency of the decision-making process which was displayed in Bonn. Another point one might want to add which is relevant for the future of the party is that the final vote on the treaty could also contribute to peace-making between the left and the right wing because of the high amount legitimacy it lends to the decision.

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