21st Sep 2021


Scholz would be foolish to rule out a left-wing coalition

  • Olaf Scholz, the SPD's outgoing finance minister, doesn't strike many voters as the radical type - even if he does end up including the Left Party (Photo: German Finance Ministry)
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Christian Democrats in Germany are resorting to a tried-and-tested method to win back voters from the centre-left: warn that the alternative to them is a government with former communists.

Armin Laschet, the joint chancellor-candidate of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU), called on Olaf Scholz, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader, in a televised debate on Sunday to rule out an alliance with Die Linke [The Left], which was formed out of the former East Germany's ruling party. Scholz demurred.

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Outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel, who had so far remained on the sidelines of the election campaign, joined the fray on Tuesday (31 August), saying, "With me as chancellor, there would never be a coalition in which The Left party is involved. And it is not clear whether this is the case with Olaf Scholz or not."

Merkel made a similar pitch to voters in 2013, when she warned the alternative to a continuation of her centre-right coalition with the liberal Free Democrats was a government of the left.

Merkel won the election, but the Free Democrats fell short, forcing her into a "grand coalition" with the SPD, which governs Germany to this day.

A coalition of SPD, Greens and The Left may not even garner a majority in the next Bundestag.

But Christian Democrats are spooked by Scholz's sudden rise. In the space of two weeks, he has overtaken Laschet as Merkel's most likely successor. The SPD is polling at 22 to 27 percent support. The CDU/CSU is stuck at 20 to 23 percent. The Greens and Free Democrats are in third and fourth place.

Nato and EU stumbling blocks?

The Left, which is unlikely to get more than seven percent, is toxic to many German voters given its support for ultrahigh taxes and opposition to Nato. It isn't wild about the EU either, calling it a neoliberal project, although it would reform the body from the inside rather than leave.

The SPD used to refuse deals with The Left, but it has in recent years warmed to cooperation at the local and state level. It makes less and less sense to maintain a distance federally, if only because it would give right-wing parties more leverage in post-election coalition talks.

Forming a government with The Left may still be a bridge too far, but a confidence-and-supply agreement, by which the party would prop up a minority SPD-Green government, may be possible.

Not-so-hard 'Hard Left'

The Left has softened its economic programme. It still hopes for the end of capitalism, but its proposals for how to get there — higher government spending, higher taxes, a higher minimum wage — sound more social democratic than revolutionary.

That is one reason Christian Democratic warnings are likely to fall flat.

Another is that Scholz, who is also the outgoing finance minister, doesn't strike many voters as the radical type. Many sympathise with the Greens' far-reaching proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy and transport but fear they are trying to do too much, too fast.

Scholz seems more reasonable, even though his party's manifesto mirrors the Greens' in many ways.

Finally, the experience in other European countries argues against panic. Social Democrat Pedro Sánchez formed a government with the far-left in Spain in 2018 and it has prioritised bread-and-butter issues, like regulating the "gig" economy and making housing more affordable, over sweeping ambitions to reform capitalism and Nato.

Stefan Löfven has led minority governments of Social Democrats and Greens supported by the far-left and centre in Sweden since 2014. Neither country looks anything like the DDR. The CDU's scare tactics are out of date.

Author bio

Nick Ottens is the founder of Atlantic Sentinel, a transatlantic opinion website, and has written for the NRC newspaper in the Netherlands, the Atlantic Council's blog, World Politics Review, and various other publications. He is a member of the Netherlands' VVD.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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