On June 2, Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and head of the SPD faction in the German Bundestag Andrea Nahles said she was leaving both offices. The social democratic leader's refusal to keep leading the party left heads spinning within the SPD, the leading German-language business newspaper Handelsblatt notes. It is never wise to suppose that the news was perceived the same way by both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and heads of the SPD's ruling coalition partners, the CDU and the CSU, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Markus Söder respectively. For the time being, threatened is the coalition government's survival, as well as the political fate of Angela Merkel.
The decisive move by Andrea Nahles was preceded by the Social Democrats' extremely weak results at the European Parliament elections (only 15.8 per cent) and the loss of their trademark majority in the city parliament of Bremen. In general, the recent polls indicate a disastrous drop in SPD's confidence ratings, which fell first to 17 per cent, and then collapsed to a shameful 12 per cent. What kind of "people's party" can we talk about? By the way, according to the confidence ratings, the "green" party has taken the lead as compared to the SPD and is just a little behind the CDU/CSU block of Christian parties.
Last Wednesday, Andrea Nahles intended to strengthen her position by a vote of confidence within the parliamentary faction, but had to give up this idea after having met with no sufficient response. And on Sunday she addressed the party members to announce her withdrawal from all the senior positions. "The discussion within the faction and numerous opinions showed that further discharge of duties assigned to me is impossible given the lack of necessary support," Andrea Nahles admitted.
As early as on Sunday evening, the SPD leadership held a crisis meeting, and in the coming days the party's board will be discussing the candidates for being Andrea Nahles' successor. It is highly possible that the Social Democrats will abandon the practice of combining the functions of the party leader and the head of its faction in the Bundestag in one person. This raises not only personnel issues, but also an acute global problem of further existence of Germany's oldest party with a history accounting for over 150 years. At the same time, the problem of preserving the CDU/CSU coalition with the SPD, that was actively supported by Andrea Nahles, is exacerbated, because the stability of Germany's major part in Europe depends on the stability of its government. Which the country is not going to abandon. Meanwhile, activists of the Social Democrats' left wing demand to break off the coalition with the CDU/CSU. For instance, leader of the Young Socialists Kevin Kühnert believes that the only way for the SPD to regain its former authority is its transition to opposition.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel almost immediately responded to Andrea Nahles' message regarding her decision to quit senior positions in the SPD. "We will continue the work of government with all seriousness and a great sense of responsibility," she said late Sunday night at the CDU headquarters in Berlin. According to the Chancellor, all the issues that the government has to solve are still on the table both in Germany as well as in Europe and the rest of the world. At the same time, Angela Merkel expressed her respect for Andrea Nahles' move, stressing that their cooperation has always been the one of mutual trust and reliability in complying with the decisions made.
CSU Chairman Marcus Söder called the Social Democrats to account before the country: "We expect the SPD to contribute to preserving a stable government in Germany". At the same time, the Prime Minister of Bavaria also regretted the exit of Andrea Nahles, noting that "her work deserves respect" and expressing the opinion that SPD's results in the election is not her ultimate responsibility. Head of the Bundestag group of CSU parliamentarians Alexander Dobrindt stressed: "Now I expect a clear commitment from the SPD to back the coalition."
Meanwhile, CDU Chairman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has come out for the continuation of a coalition with Social Democrats, stating that "this is not the hour for tactical considerations within the party." She called on the SPD to resolve its personnel issues as soon as possible so as not to harm the coalition government activity. At the same time, she followed Angela Merkel's suit, mentioning the "great respect" she has towards Andrea Nahles' decision and referring to her as "an honest and reliable partner with a virile character."
By the way, this summer's collapse of the ruling coalition in Germany is likely to draw a line under the long political career of the current Cabinet head, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.