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SPD youth vote may be key as campaigners push 'no' to grand coalition

SPD youth vote may be key as campaigners push 'no' to grand coalition
By Robert Hackwill
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Germany's government remains on hold as the centre-left SPD polls members on sharing power with Angela Merkel.


One young man is on a mission, to stop the next German government.

Kevin Kühnert is the leader of the youth wing of the Social Democratic SPD party, and he is on a campaign tour across Germany.

He wants the SPD's members to oppose a new coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. The stakes could hardly be higher.

After months of negotiating, the more than 400,000 SPD members will have the final say in a postal vote.

A "no" vote would end the hopes of a new German government anytime soon.

Cutting our own throats

"We were against this coalition from the very beginning and it has a lot to do with the election result. The SPD and the Christian Democratic Union lost 14 percent of their votes. We don’t think that it is the task of these parties to form another coalition," says Kühnert.

If Kühnert is going to have a chance to clinch a win for the no side, then he needs the young members to vote overwhelmingly for his position. It is widely believed that older members will vote for the coalition, fearing instability that a no might bring. But Kühnert himself doesn't give much for the stability argument.

"I don’t remember the last grand coalition as very stable. Instead it was unable to make decisions. The two parties kept blocking each other. Even projects that were written down in the coalition agreement were not implemented because the coalition partners couldn't implement together. And now a few months later to say that now we will get a well-functioning government. No one has been able to explain to me how that will happen," he claims.

Cutting to the chase

But Kühnert is not the only one campaigning. Across Germany, the SPD's leaders are holding meetings with members to convince them to vote yes. At the Neukölln branch of the SPD in Berlin, the local Member of Parliament is getting ready for a debate. His position is clear.

"In the past, the SPD worked in the grand coalition and ended up losing the elections. That’s why a lot of members are sceptical about joining a new government. But I’m fully for it. We could do a lot of important things for the people that voted for us but we can only do it when we are in government. And that is what we should do," said SPD MP Fritz Felgentreu.

Opinion polls show a slight advantage for the "yes" side. But the members are split, and many want the SPD to return to opposition, even after gaining several important ministries in the government negotiations.

Cut and run or compromise?

"For me it's only about the content. Of course, the ministries will have a big influence about things that don’t stand in the agreement. But what I can make my decision on right now is what’s in the agreement. And that is not enough," says SPD member Myoung-Le Seo.

"Well, we saw the election result after the grand coalition where the right became much stronger. So we have to see if its really something we should do again," says another member, Marlon Bode.

"Of course it is better to be in a government. Opposition is actually rubbish," said another.

It is not just Germany that awaits the SPD members’ vote with a mix of anticipation and fear.

Leaders in Europe are hoping for a quick resolution to the situation, and the return of Germany as a strong leader in the EU. French President Emmanuel Macron especially needs Merkel to sign up to his reforms of the EU, something that she is more likely to do with the pro-EU integration SPD at her side.

Europe's cutting edge

"I think that Emmanuel Macron would be happy if a grand coalition is happening. It is a very pro-European coalition and in the coalition agreement, there is a very long section on Europe. Of course, Emmanuel Macron won’t get everything that he wants, that's not how EU politics, and politics in general, work.

But basically, I think that if this government actually happens then it wouldn’t be a bad thing for Emmanuel Macron and not a bad thing for Europe," says the European Council of Foreign Relations' Ulrike Esther Franke.


"The result of the SPD members’ vote will be announced on the 4th of March. If it is a yes, then Angela Merkel will start her fourth term as a Chancellor ten days later. If it is a no, then Germany will most likely go to the polls again. And Europe will face more uncertainty," reports euronews' Jona Källgren.

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