Germany: Schulz gives up Foreign Ministry portfolio

Jon Howard
February 10, 2018

Senior members of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) want leader Martin Schulz to waive the post of foreign minister, Bild newspaper said in an unsourced report on Friday.

"I hereby declare my decision not to join the federal government and at the same time I sincerely hope that this will end the personnel debates within the SPD", said Mr Schulz.

In a statement, Schulz said he believed that debate within the SPD risked jeopardising a "yes" vote among members on whether the party should go ahead with a coalition deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, reached on Wednesday.

Angela Merkel has agreed a deal to form a new coalition government in Germany, four months after suffering damaging losses in elections.

Many Social Democrats have blamed their poor showing on the party's membership in the previous "grand coalition".

Many grassroots members in the centre-left party are sceptical about another tie-up with Merkel after the SPD suffered it worst election result of the postwar era in September's election.

It looks unlikely to hit trouble there, despite discontent over the party losing the finance and interior ministries.

Heavy price for coalition

But upon the failure of coalition talks between Merkel's conservatives, the liberal FDP and Greens, Schulz led Social Democrats in coalition negotiations with the CDU/CSU alliance.

With the coalition deal subject to a yes-or-no referendum by all 460,000 of the SPD rank and file, the sound of activists' teeth grinding at Mr Schulz's apparent move to secure himself a cosy job had by Friday become impossible to ignore.

Sigmar Gabriel, a popular foreign minister in the previous government and until recently seen as a close friend of Schulz, bitterly attacked his party leader in an interview on Thursday, hinting at broken promises. But the final stretch appeared to be more about horse-trading on posts, with the SPD celebrating their advances within the cabinet.

Kevin Kühnert, leader of the SPD's youth wing, is travelling around the country urging members to say "no".

"The only thing left, really, is remorse over how disrespectful we've become with one another in our dealings and how little someone's word still counts", Gabriel said.

Some commentators have suggested a mid-term review due two years in to the government could offer Merkel the opportunity to step gracefully aside.

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