Germany’s grand coalition boosts right

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Doing deals: CDU leader Angela Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz

The Nazi-led Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) is poised to become Germany’s main opposition party thanks to the political bankruptcy of leaders of the country’s Social Democratic Party (SPD).

The SPD reached a deal with Conservative CDU leader Angela Merkel last week, reviving the “grand coalition” of the previous four years, which was a prime reason for the far-right’s rise.

The AfD has 92 of the 631 seats in the Bundestag after coming third with 13 percent of the vote in the September election, seven points behind the SPD. At the time SPD leader Martin Schulz vowed he would not join a coalition and not serve in a Merkel government.

But when Merkel’s attempt to form a government with the Greens and Liberals collapsed in November, Schulz performed a u-turn. Not only did he enter talks; he sought a top position.

Merkel and Schulz reached a deal in early February, having carved up the ministerial jobs while the Nazis waited in the wings.

After five months with no government, SPD leaders portray the coalition not as a betrayal but as a requirement for stability.

It can only be a disaster, making the AfD the official opposition and go-to spokespeople on every major issue. Its leaders will be first to respond to any statement by Merkel in the Bundestag, a running order replicated on TV.

AfD members now head the Bundestag’s budget, tourism and legal affairs committees — the last overseeing Germany’s law on “hate speech”, which the AfD denounces as censorship.

About one-third of AfD MPs are Nazis, one-third extreme racists and the rest somewhere between. The Nazis call the shots.

To give a flavour, the AfD leader in Schleswig Holstein suggested the SPD “go to the oven”; leader in the Bundestag Björn Höcke called Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial a “monument of shame”; Lower Saxony AfD leader Wilhelm von Gottberg dismissed the Holocaust as “a myth”; and AfD leader in Saxony Anhalt Andre Poggenburg declared “Germany for the Germans” and urged measures to “get rid once and for all” of the left.

The SPD’s 460,000 members were to vote on whether to back the coalition by 2 March.

SPD leaders urge support despite a poll in February showing the party on just 15.5 percent, half a point behind the AfD.

There were no polls to indicate the likely result, but a vote for the coalition is most likely despite unprecedented opposition from the youth wing of the party — although Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau suggested SPD leaders had “massively underestimated the revolt among grassroots members” (12 February). We must hope he is right.

Schulz’s about-turn proved too much even for some SPD leaders, who forced him out as he bemoaned his role in “endangering a successful vote”. Schulz had been leader for a year, initially winning 100 percent support in a ridiculous display of unity behind a man with no principles.

Merkel was under fire in her own party for awarding the SPD the finance ministry in the new government, as though the conservative SPD politician Olaf Scholz will make any difference in the post. The Nazis must be salivating at the crises in both parties.

In a positive sign, anti-AfD protesters in Berlin stopped an AfD march through Kreuzberg, an area akin to London’s Brick Lane, on 17 February, defying police who had cleared a way for the fascists’ anti-Islam “women’s rights march” by blocking the route at the former Berlin Wall site of Checkpoint Charlie.

The vote on the coalition was due to be announced on 4 March, also the day of the Italian General Election when Silvio Berlusconi aimed to make a comeback.

“The 1930s in slow motion” as a description of the present seldom seemed so apt.