Towards ‘Grand Coalition’: How the Agenda of German Social Democrats Has Evolved

The future of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) depends on the coalition with Christian Democrats, says Valdai Club expert Reinhard Krumm. But it is no less important for the political future of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD congress on January 21 decided to join the coalition with the Christian Democratic Union to form a new government. This was the result of months-long negotiations inside the party itself, where many members are suspicious toward the idea of a “Grand coalition,” believing that it was the participation in it as a partner of Christian Democrats in 2005-2009 and since 2013 has weakened the SPD. In the most recent parliamentary elections, the Social Democrats got 25.7% of votes against 41.5% for the Christian democrats.

According to Reinhard Krumm, head of the Regional Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Social Democrats finally realized that their party's future depends on joining the coalition. On the one hand, participation in the coalition can weaken their positions even more, while on the other, non-participation in it “is overwhelmingly suicidal,” he said in a telephone interview with

The creation of a coalition with the SPD is important for the CDU, and personally for Angela Merkel, Krumm believes. “If there is not a grand coalition, it could be a huge blow to Merkel,” he said. “If there are new elections, the question arises whether Merkel remains the CDU candidate.”

Moreover, the strengthening of the Alternative for Germany far-right party is unprofitable for both SPD and CDU/CSU, so it pushes them to participate in a government coalition, the expert noted.

According to Krumm, the SPD congress showed how the Social Democrats’ agenda has evolved in recent months. According to him, it includes three most important topics: the digitalization of the economy, migration and social justice. The digitalization of the economy is a huge challenge for Germany as a country which heavily relies on exports, he said, and it is not yet clear what decisions will be made if it comes to Germany. As for migration, the position of the SPD on this issue has changed, although not in the same way than that of the CDU: the Social Democrats continue to favour a softer approach to solve the problem. At the same time, the problem of the gap between the rich and poor is a traditional issue of the Social Democrats, which has recently acquired a special acuteness.

As for the foreign policy debate in the Social-Democratic Party, the most noteworthy is the return of the theme of Europe. “During the pre-election campaign, the EU issue did not play any role,” Krumm said. “It was clear to German politicians that this is not the most important thing.”

Now the situation has changed. Perhaps the reason is French President Emmanuel Macron and his actions, the expert believes. “If three months ago Macron’s initiatives did not had a lot of resonance, now everything has changed,” Krumm said. In his view, this is a positive development: before Macron, France looked rather weak, and now the Germans feel that the revival of a full-fledged Franco-German tandem could contribute to the implementation of long-simmering reforms in the EU.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.