The electorate of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) rejects potential collaboration with Christian Democrats (CDU-CSU) and prefers a progressive government looking at the future rather than a return to the austerity-driven past, EU lawmaker and senior SPD official Udo Bullmann told EURACTIV in an interview in Berlin.
Asked if SPD voters would be open to another grand coalition of the SPD and CDU in case of a deadlock in coalition-building talks, he replied: “Our electorate expects us now to form a coalition of parties which want to shape the future and not look backwards. The answer is therefore no.”
Bullmann, who is also the EU affairs spokesperson of the SPD’s Executive Committee, stressed that the political focus is on climate change and digitalisation, but also on increasing social cohesion and equality.
“We will need to find partners that share this vision and can contribute to it instead of hindering progress and modernisation. Together with [SPD’s chancellor candidate] Olaf Scholz we won the election. A large majority of voters perceives him as the forthcoming German chancellor,” he said.
“And we are very much convinced that the conservatives should go to the opposition benches,” Bullmann added.
At the SPD election night event held in Berlin after the polls closed on 26 September, the crowd booed when a live TV broadcast said that a grand coalition would be mathematically possible.
Taking into account the political sensitivities of a potential coalition, any deal will likely be put to a vote among SPD members, although institutionally, Scholz is not obliged to.
Firm no to austerity, yes to ‘fair’ ecological transition
Bullmann said SPD had remained united during good but also bad times when it was polling low.
“We have navigated through a long open process of consultation on our leadership and our programme. This openness together with real opportunities for our membership to engage and shape our programme as well as our leadership now brings us in a great position for negotiations,” he said.
Asked if a potential collaboration with the liberal pro-business FDP would force the SPD to take a step back and shelve its push to end austerity, Bullmann replied: “We have clearly defined our vision for the future of Germany and Europe.”
“We have also made clear that there cannot be a continuation of austerity, that we need real social climate action and that we must invest in our future, including infrastructure, education and innovation,” he added.
Bullmann said Scholz and the SPD campaign had clearly shown that there is broad support for anti-austerity measures.
“The crisis management to protect jobs in Germany and Europe has paid off and our international partners are supporting us when it comes to minimum corporate taxation. It is therefore out of question that a government under SPD leadership will continue this successful approach.”
He emphasised, though, that for a coalition government to work properly, all parties involved must not lose the core of their identity, especially now that a three-party federal coalition government seems almost inevitable for the first time.
“As social democrats, we will now be in the position to negotiate as the main political force in such a government and we have committed to shaping the transition towards a fair society, carbon neutrality and a digital economy in a socially sustainable way.”
“This was our promise during the election campaign, this is still the platform on which Olaf Scholz and the SPD have received broad support among the German people and won these elections.”
“The same way that we will not expect our partners to go against their political identity, we of course will expect similar respect towards the SPD’s key positions and the priorities of our voters,” he said.
Die Linke needs self-assessment
Asked about the poor performance of the leftist Die Linke, which struggled to enter the parliament, Bullmann said the leftist camp will now have to assess internally why this has happened.
“Having gained a substantial share of votes from Die Linke, we are firstly thankful to these voters for their trust and support. Seeing the opportunity of an SPD-led government while simultaneously seeing Die Linke stuck in foreign policy narratives of the past, I imagine many voters have chosen to support Scholz and the SPD instead.”
Despite the pressure from the conservatives, he said SPD did not completely rule out some sort of cooperation with Die Linke.
“In many states, there is already a good level of cooperation, and we must continue to keep this opportunity open. Of course, we cannot form a coalition government now that Die Linke has lost this substantially in members but we do see the possibility to form a progressive government with other partners.”
He stressed that the future government must be up to the challenge of managing the ecological transition in a socially fair manner, invest into key infrastructure measures, education and the digital transition, but also increase the minimum wage and social support for families and the bottom 40% of society.
“We make Europe a global leader, also in lifting up the most marginalised groups, and we commit ourselves to achieving this also in international partnerships and multilateral cooperation. These are the key indicators, which for us describe what a progressive government means, and we will continue to work hard to build such a coalition,” he concluded.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]