After Massive SPD Defeats, Berlin’s Coalition Government Shakier Than Ever

The cohesion of the three-party government coalition of Chancellor Olaf Scholz is undermined by many serious frictions — ranging from issues of economic and social policy to differences on how to respond to the war in Ukraine. The dominant impression on the latter is that Scholz is turning Germany into a party to the war, by giving in to the coordinated anti-Russian positions of the Greens and the liberal FDP. He is thus alienating strong currents in his own SPD party, whose voter base has traditionally favored good relations with Russia.

The widening gulf between these two approaches inside the SPD was evident in the huge losses for the party in state parliament elections in Schleswig-Holstein on May 8 (40% less than in the previous election) and then again in North Rhine Westphalia on May 15 (nearly 25% less). The head of the SPD slate North Rhine Westphalia, Thomas Kuschaty, had himself contributed to the defeat, when he forced Thomas Geisel, a former popular SPD Mayor of Düsseldorf, to delete an anti-war statement on his website, in which he also criticized Ukrainian Ambassador to Berlin Andriy Melnyk for what he is — a driver of war propaganda and the militarization of German-Ukrainian relations. For the SPD, the vote result in NRW on May 15 was the worst in the 75 years of election history of the state.

The fact that Chancellor Scholz finally agreed to go along with the pro-war mainstream media is working to the benefit of the opposition CDU, and even more so of the Greens, who tripled their score in NRW and can thus be expected to exert even more influence in the three-party coalition. But the big winner there was the abstentionist vote, which was at the record high of 44,5%. Voter turnout was particularly low in traditional working class (and thus SPD) areas, and high in the wealthier districts that tend to vote Green.

The surge for the Greens is also very bad news for Germany in economic terms, because, in addition to their all-out support for the bankers’ Green Deal, they have taken the lead in calling for ever-more sanctions against Russia, which directly threatens industries. Thus, in an attempt to sell his campaign for a total ban on Russian oil imports, Economics Minister Robert Habeck of the Greens went last week to Schwedt in the state of Brandenburg, the site of Germany’s biggest oil refinery complex PCK, which is specialized in processing the heavy oil coming from Russia. Most of Germany’s eastern regions are supplied with gasoline and other petrochemical products from Schwedt, and one third of all the bitumen needed for road-building is produced by PCK. Contrary to what Habeck and the Greens claim, Russian oil cannot be replaced by other sources, nor can PCK easily switch from oil to “green hydrogen”. The re-tooling needed to do so would require some 10 years to complete. Brandenburg’s Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke of the SPD has openly opposed the sanctions against Russia because of their devastating effects on the economy in eastern Germany.

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