Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

German SPD leader Schulz quits in bid to end turbulence over coalition

Martin Schulz announces his resignation as Social Democratic Party chairman at the party's headquarters in Berlin on Feb. 13, 2018.

Markus Schreiber/AP

German Social Democrat leader (SPD) Martin Schulz stepped down with immediate effect on Tuesday, hoping to put an end to the turbulence that has rocked the center-left party since it agreed a coalition deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

Schulz's deputy Olaf Scholz – the Hamburg mayor who is slated to become finance minister in the new government – said he would become caretaker SPD leader, and the party confirmed that it had recommended parliamentary floor leader Andrea Nahles as Schulz's longer-term successor.

Deeply divided over the coalition deal and the distribution of ministerial posts, and facing a slump in opinion polls, SPD leaders are trying to convince 464,000 party members to back the accord with Merkel in a ballot on which her fourth term depends.

Story continues below advertisement

With many SPD rank-and-file members harboring misgivings about sharing power with Merkel again, the result of the vote, due on March 4, is wide open. If members reject the coalition deal, a new German election looks the most likely option.

Schulz said an extraordinary party congress would be held in the western city of Wiesbaden on April 22 to pick the SPD's new leader.

Nahles, a plain-speaking 47-year-old former labor minister with a left-wing slant and strong oratory skills, is frontrunner and would become the first female leader in the party's 154-year history.

Schulz said last week he would quit to allow the party to regroup and he recommended Nahles as leader but expectations that she would take over with immediate effect on a caretaker basis until a party conference triggered resistance as it breaches party procedure.

FOREIGN MINISTER POST

In a cartoon on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail.

Schulz ditched plans to take the post of foreign minister after fierce criticism from some former allies, not least because he had vowed not to serve in a cabinet with Merkel.

Story continues below advertisement

That leaves open who from within the SPD may take up that post. Media have speculated that one option might be Katarina Barley, a former SPD general secretary and family minister, or SPD veteran Thomas Oppermann.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has been without a formal government since the Sept. 24 election and investors are worried about a delay in policymaking, both at home and in Europe.

The turmoil in the SPD can only distract from criticism of Merkel from within her own party after she handed the foreign and finance ministries to the SPD to secure the coalition deal.

An INSA poll published on Tuesday showed the SPD at a record low of 16.5 per cent, only 1.5 percentage points ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Merkel's conservative bloc was also down 1 point at 29.5 per cent.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.