The leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the SPD, resigned on Sunday from her party’s top jobs, raising the possibility that Germany’s embattled government could collapse.
Andrea Nahles, who heads the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), has come under intense pressure after voters handed the party its worst European election results a week ago.
With an eye on three key state elections in eastern Germany in September, the SPD had initially planned to re-examine its partnership with Merkel’s centre-right CDU-CSU alliance in the autumn.
But ahead of a planned leadership vote on Tuesday, Nahles said she would give up her jobs as both party chief and head of its parliamentary group.
“The discussions in the parliamentary group and the broad feedback from the party showed me that the support necessary for the exercise of my offices is no longer there,” said Nahles in a statement.
The 48-year-old said she hoped her resignation “would open the possibility that the succession can take place in an orderly manner”.
However, Harald Christ, deputy chief of the SPD’s economy forum, told the Bild daily that Nahles’s decision had put the future of the coalition in serious doubt.
“To all those who are happy today: it is a great loss for German politics. Nahles stands for the existence of the GroKo – whose stability is now in question,” he said, using the German short-form for grand coalition.
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Anxiously watching as the SPD tumbled into disarray, CDU heavyweights urged their centre-left partner not to endanger the coalition.
“The voter mandate is valid for four years and political parties must ensure stability in difficult times,” the CDU’s Bundestag deputy president Hans-Peter Friedrich told Bild daily.
“An early end of the GroKo would only benefit the political fringes.”
Merkel’s CDU itself was scrambling to retain voters, after it too scored a record low in the European elections.
Her favoured successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was also struggling to put down a raging online youth revolt against the party, raising questions as to whether she is the best person for Germany’s top job when Merkel leaves the political stage in 2021.
Following Nahles’ bombshell, the CDU said both Kramp-Karrenbauer and Merkel would address the press later on Sunday.
But the far-right AfD said the government was already disintegrating.
“Not only is the SPD dissolving, the GroKo too is walking the political stage only as one of the undead,” wrote the co-leader of the AfD’s group in parliament, Alice Weidel, on Twitter.
Some newspapers reached similar conclusions.
Bild daily noted that “the SPD is bleeding to death. The GroKo too”. And the Sueddeutsche daily predicted that “the coalition has come to an end.
“The Social Democrats have just defeated the woman who with great effort brought the alliance together. What’s the point now then of continuing to torment themselves with this?”