On Sunday 28 January, I have a written an article in which I put forward my arguments, why the SPD should not enter a new grand coalition with Merkel’s conservative bloc. The following reply was written by Christopher Glück who takes a contrary position and makes a strong case for saying that the SPD should enter a new government for the sake of Europe. My reply will follow shortly.
It has been a painful year for German social-democracy, no doubt. This explains much of the bitterness and defiance one hears from many of the advocates of No-GroKo: Opposition – at any cost. You didn’t want it any other way, German voter.
Unfortunately, bitterness is not a strategy. Nobody is euphoric about GroKo, but who says we have to be. Politics rarely is a weekend trip with friends and coalitions rarely marriages of love. And there were times when it was much less comfortable to fight for social-democratic values than it is in 2018 in Germany. So let’s swallow our disappointment, do away with our self-pity and have a sober look at the situation.
Laurin has taken it upon himself to set out an intellectual, rather than emotional case for No-Groko. Thank you for this, because it allows for dialogue. I believe it is a strong case, with arguments that cannot easily be brushed aside, but I would challenge some of your assumptions.
Let me start with what you put last and what leading No-GroKo-advcocates such as Kevin Kühnert do not care to talk about at all, but what for me is the key argument – our responsibility for Europe.
If I may paraphrase you a little, you say Macron has pushed the doors wide open, fresh air is coming in and change is inevitable. No CDU minority government would be willing or even able to block it. Moreover, you say CDU is “pro-European” and therefore SPD is not needed anyways.
To me, this sounds decisively too indifferent about what really matters in this game: What are the changes social-democrats want to see in Europe and what changes need to be made in order to address the “make or break” challenges the EU is confronted with, mainly an incomplete monetary union which would not be able to survive another economic crisis and European solutions for migration.
Suggesting we could lean back and enjoy the flight relying on CDU’s “pro-European” sentiment, when in fact we know that CDU remains opposed to or sceptical of nearly all of the major ideas of Macron, I find unconvincing, especially when a weak German minority government will necessarily act cautiously around an energetic and hyper ambitious French president. Similarly we all know that there will be no reforms against the will of the German government. Why pretend that Germany was just one partner in a discussion of 27 states, the Commission and the Parliament and in the end the German position might be negligible? We know that any credible proposal must be carried by a Franco-German initiative. Either there will be such an initiative or there will be no reform.
So, yes, there would probably be some progress even in a hypothetical Merkel minority government, but it would almost certainly not correspond to social-democratic priorities for Europe, it would almost certainly not include any truly ground-breaking changes and it would almost certainly have a strong focus on “responsabilité” and minimal progress on “solidarité”, while we know that both is needed. Let me be precise: A step change in the common European financing of European goods? Unlikely. A framework agreement for minimum wages? No. Increased European investment against youth unemployment? No. Transnational lists? No. More money for Erasmus+? No. Automatic stabilisers for the Eurozone, such as a European Unemployment Insurance? A Eurozone budget? Finalising the Banking Union with a Deposit Insurance scheme? A European Finance Minister? A more efficient Commission with less Commissioners? No. No. No. No. No.
The consolation you offer is that you say, and I paraphrase again, “Hey, hang in there, we might win the next time around and then we can do the real deal.” The window of opportunity, however, is open now and it is closing fast. Thanks to Macron’s surprise victory and to some degree thanks to Brexit and Trump, we have pushed back against the populist threat and gained a few years. Until then we need results or we will have to deal with a President Le Pen. If the EU fails, it will be because Macron does not succeed, not because of another GroKo. Will we really feel comfortable with saying that we have had the chance to make the Euro save, the EU more social and more democratic but we chose to be in opposition? I am not.
You go on saying that even if we were able to realise all of our ideas for Europe – we would not stand to gain from it in terms of votes. But isn’t that confusing the means and the ends? Since when are we in it for the applause? We are pushing for social-democratic answers because we believe it is the right thing to do. We do it to maintain peace and equality on our continent. This is the DNA of our party.
Be that as it may, you say, we don’t have a mandate for GroKo anyways. Together the three parties of the current government lost 13,6%, so “the voter” wants us out. Let me ask you then, what government does have a mandate? The right wing populist AfD won 12,6% and we run away crying foul? Are we letting 12,6% destabilise the country and Europe? GroKo still represents a democratic majority. Let us not commit suicide because we are too scared to die in combat.
Parties are rarely elected as an expression of gratitude for past achievements. Parties get elected if they have an attractive plan for the future. Your assumption is that we can only develop that in opposition. You might be right, you might not be. I wish we could get a little more excited about what can be achieved now, because it is a lot in times of Trump and Brexit. If we don’t know what gets us votes, should we really sacrifice concrete social-democratic wins in the hope of future electoral triumphs? Are we not confusing means and ends? If we forego the current historic opportunities in Europe, we must be pretty damn certain that it pays off. But can we be certain that opposition and only opposition will help us gaining back voters? If you ask me, given the damage a minority government or new elections might cause for Germany and Europe, the opportunity costs of some reflection time in opposition might be just too high to accept.