To be or not to be in a grand coalition: that is the question. Initially rejected by SPD, a grand coalition now looks like the only chance to solve Germany’s problems, which can in turn give a boost to the much-needed post-Brexit EU reforms.
It was Martin Schulz, the German politician best known in Brussels, who rejected the idea of a grand coalition, after the disastrous results for his SPD in the 24 September election. But Schulz was not against another grand coalition before the election. It just turned out that the longer SPD stayed in the grand coalition with CDU/CSU, the more its popular support eroded.
Those who know Schulz from his time in Brussels remember him as the key man behind a grand coalition in the European Parliament. That coalition was badly needed in a time of crises. The coalition’s detractors accused Schulz and Juncker of deciding almost everything at secretive lunches, accompanied only by the EPP and S&D group leaders.
This indeed was undermining the democratic formats where journalists can ask questions at the end of the session. Ultimately, this coalition served Juncker better and the Commission President probably misses his pal. Let’s not forget that Juncker helped Schulz become elected as Parliament President for a third consecutive term.
When Schulz left Brussels to lead SPD ahead of the election, he was called a “sexy beast” and some believed he could win the election. If he had, he would certainly have done a grand coalition with CDU/CSU. Schulz is perceived as a bit of a centrist among fellow socialists and social-democrats. So when he left the European Parliament, S&D chief Gianni Pittella felt free to break the grand coalition and the new EP President Antonio Tajani won this post with the support of the liberals and of the conservative ECR group.
This was not a bad move. Listening to their electorate, S&D realise that they should be able to forge alliances with political parties on their left, like Syriza in Greece. By the way, the best illustration of the end of the grand coalition in the European Parliament is the unprecedented vote for the EU annual budget on Thursday, in which S&D abstained for the first time.
A grand coalition could be the best outcome for Austria, but it is unlikely that Kurz’ ÖVP will take SPÖ as a partner. Maybe next year’s election in Italy will result in a grand coalition, although it is difficult to say.
In a nutshell, the grand coalition is not a fashion but an occasional necessity. And Schulz is not politically unsuitable for negotiating a new grand coalition format in Germany. Quite the contrary, he’s the Coalition man.
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