dinsdag, november 01, 2005

Müntefering leaves in a huff, taking his ball home with him

Intriguing little giblet out of Germany: top of the fold news this morning is that SPD party leader Franz 'Plague of Locusts' Müntefering, who had been expected to take the positions of vice-chancellor and labour minister in an SPD-CDU coalition government, has said he does not intend to run for re-election next month. The understandable hook for the press is how the resignation deals a fairly heavy blow to the coalition talks - now in their fourth round.

Indeed, Tobias Schwarz at A Fistful of Euros is reporting that there have been a handful of reports in the German press about the CDU leadership's 'silently beginning preparations for yet another round of elections to be held on March 26, when there are also state and/or local elections to be held in Rheinland-Pfalz, Baden-Württemberg, and Sachsen-Anhalt'. And Deutsche Welle is (somewhat wishful-thinkingly, IMO) saying that the so-called Jamaica coalition - CDU, Greens and Free Democrats - is not completely off the table, reporting that FDU leader Guido Westerwelle said 'he was willing to restart discussions about a so-called Jamaica coalition of CDU/CSU, Greens and his party'.

'"Angela Merkel has my number," he said in an interview on German public broadcaster ARD.'

Müntefering's departure frustrates the coalition talks as he was 'viewed as 'key to holding together a potentially fractious coalition,' also according to Deutsche Welle. 'Viewed' by whom is not clear, given the sentence's shady passive construction, but DW probably means 'viewed by the bien-pensants of the SPD's right wing'. And herein is the interesting little nugget: The reason Müntefering left, taking his ball with him, was that former youth wing leader and the unofficial leader of the SPD's left wing, Andrea Nahles, 35, won a vote by the party's executive committee to become the next general secretary, handily beating Müntefering's preferred candidate. As the New York Times is reporting, 'Mr. Müntefering [and] Mr. Schröder, 61, represent an older generation of Social Democrats that is increasingly at odds with younger party members. Some of these up-and-comers are staunchly leftist and opposed Mr. Schröder's efforts to overhaul the German economy.' Nahles - a former protégé of Oscar Lafontaine - recently built a reputation for herself as an outspoken opponent of Schroeder's reforms, organising a movement within the SPD in favour of more socially oriented policies. This development was what ultimately forced the Chancellor to call early elections aiming to stave off an open revolt within the party. Rather than staunching the intra-party disquiet, however, the election has accelerated it.

Andrea Nahles

'I can no longer be party chairman under these conditions,' Müntefering told reporters in response to his candidate's loss.

Despite his electoral gambit earlier this year of describing foreign investors as akin to a plague of locusts, aiming to shore up the SPD's then (and continuing) rapidly atrophying support amongst its traditional voters, Müntefering remains as committed to the neo-liberal reforms of the outgoing government as ever. The party may be looking over its shoulder at the growing support for the Linkspartei and attempting to push the SPD leftwards, and the rank-and-file, never happy with Hartz IV and Agenda 2010 is distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of a grand coalition with the CDU, but Müntefering will have none of this.

In any case, if there is another election, I can't see the conservatives gaining from the situation. Furthermore, the Linke have shown they are not merely a protest vote, but now the fourth party in the country - their support is not going to disappear; it can only grow as SPD voters feel safe in the knowledge that a vote for Lafontaine & co. is not throwing their vote away. An SPD that tacks to the left might actually pick up a few votes as well.

Whatever happens, European social democracy (outside Mr. Magoo-like New Labour) is clearly in crisis as it is caught between the economic imperatives of globalisation and the demands of its supporters and the wider electorate.