BERLIN: Responding to a disastrous election night, leftists in Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) demanded a new, assertive approach in their coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and signalled it might soon be time to break free.
The SPD suffered a double humiliation on Sunday (May 26). Defeated in a regional vote in the northern state of Bremen for the first time in 73 years, they also saw their share of the vote slide more than 11 points to 15.8 per cent in EU parliamentary elections, losing out to the Greens.
The setbacks fuelled discontent among many members of the SPD who want to ditch the second consecutive stint as junior partner in Merkel's coalition. They want the party to reinvent itself in opposition and rediscover its leftist roots.
In a position paper released on Monday, SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner, SPD youth wing leader Kevin Kuehnert and lawmaker Matthias Miersch said voters were fed up with a lack of clarity from the party.
"We need ... the courage to decisively correct our course where it is needed. For our work in the grand coalition, that means an SPD with no fear," they said.
They stopped short of openly calling time on the coalition with Merkel but made clear that their patience was running thin.
"The grand coalition has an end date: at the latest, September 2021 and if needed sooner. We have not signed up for a (long-term) subscription with the conservatives," they said.
They homed in on SPD priorities, saying the coalition must deliver on a basic pension and an immigration law. They also called for progress on the taxation of multinational companies, affordable rents and climate protection.
SPD leader Andrea Nahles, under intense pressure to deliver electoral success or forfeit her job, tried to rally her troops on Sunday, making clear that she intended to stay in the coalition and push for more social policies.
Since taking power just over a year ago, Merkel's coalition has been beset by infighting. Last year, it nearly collapsed after a row over migrant policy and the sacking of the head of domestic intelligence. Now the parties are rowing over pensions.
The SPD will review the coalition by the end of the year. Any move to pull out could trigger snap elections or a possible new coalition. Three more regional elections take place before then, all in former Communist eastern states where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is strongest.
Neither option is appealing to the SPD or conservative leadership and either could hasten the departure of Merkel who has already handed the leadership of her Christian Democrats (CDU) to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.