Membership momentum threatens to derail SPD coalition plans

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 24, 2018 9:44 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) on Wednesday considered tightening rules on new members' voting rights after campaigners against a renewed coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives succeeded in triggering a surge in applications.

Delegates to an SPD special congress voted narrowly at the weekend to work towards a repeat of the "grand coalition" that has ruled Germany for the past four years, siding with party leadership against the SPD's more radical "Jusos" youth wing.

But party leader Martin Schulz, desperate to win over a skeptical rank-and-file, pledged to consult the party's 450,000-odd members in a postal ballot before inking a final deal that would end months of uncertainty in Europe's largest economy.

"Join this party! Make it yours," said Kevin Kuehnert, head of the Jusos in a speech to Sunday's congress urging against the vote, echoing his group's more prosaic slogan: "A tenner against the GroKo" - the shorthand term for a grand coalition.

Regional party organizations have reported a boost in membership applications, costing from 5 euros a month, since the weekend as people race to join the postal ballot when a deal is reached.

In North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany's largest state, the SPD had received 600 new applications, in Berlin, 300.

These numbers are still small compared with the 30,000 who streamed into the party over 2017 amid the short-lived euphoria that followed Schulz's appointment as leader, many of whom can be expected to maintain their backing for him.

Many in the Jusos liken themselves to "Momentum", a left-wing dissident membership group that has influence in Britain's Labour Party, securing the election of outsider Jeremy Corbyn as leader over the objections of the then-leadership.

But party leaders warned against a short-term influx of new members joining with just one purpose in mind. Officials told newspaper Die Welt that they planned to introduce a cut-off date that would ensure new members were committed in the long term before being given full voting rights.

"The SPD isn't eBay," Michael Groschek, the SPD's chief in NRW, told newspaper Die Welt. "We don't put our political decisions up for auction."

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams)