What to do with Die Linke
EVERY TIME Olaf Scholz or Annalena Baerbock are questioned about a coalition with Die Linke (The Left), a party born in 2007 from the ashes of the Communist Party of East Germany, which they furiously beat around the bush. Mr Scholz, of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate for chancellery, says he needs a clear commitment to NATO from any future coalition partner. Ms Baerbock, the Green Party candidate, says she will speak to all Democratic parties – and Die Linke is a Democratic party too.
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Earlier this month, the leaders of Die Linke appeared to be wooing the SPD and the Greens with an offer of a “progressive alliance” that could achieve leftist political goals such as higher taxes on the rich and rent caps. The party even rescinded its repeated demand to abolish NATO of his Sofort program, its immediate political measures. Yet in recent days the party has dispelled any impression of a more moderate course. In a televised debate on September 13, Janine Wissler, co-director of Die Linke, again proclaimed that her party wanted to dissolve NATO and turn it into a collective security alliance that includes Russia. When asked how the left could possibly be part of a coalition government while pursuing such a policy, she replied that foreign policy is more than just a NATO.
The reason why Mr Scholz, a moderate who is German finance minister and vice-chancellor, does not categorically rule out a coalition with Die Linke is strategic: it could be a useful tip in talks with the Free Democrats (FDP,) a liberal party, about a coalition “at the traffic lights” with the SPD and the Greens. But if his party gets more votes than any other party, as polls predict, Mr Scholz will need the approval of the SPD ‘s 400,000 members for any coalition it may form. And party supporters are more favorable to Die Linke than to him. In 2019, Mr. Scholz was beaten in the race for the SPD chaired by Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans, both of whom belong to the left wing of the party.
Ms Esken, in particular, is a fan of her party’s possible coalition with Die Linke and the Greens. It is rarely in the spotlight: the SPD is doing much better than expected by focusing the campaign solely on Mr Scholz, who is by far the most popular of the chancellor candidates. The Berlin Commentary even hypothesized that the SPD Ms Esken is hiding after she canceled an appearance on a popular talk show at the last minute, but was spotted at a flea booth next to the studio.
Nevertheless, after an electoral victory, the left of the SPD will probably want his pound of flesh. Those who advocate a coalition with Die Linke argue that the SPD has many more domestic policies in common with him than with the FDP, particularly in economic and fiscal matters. And the SPD has already, after all, found itself in coalition with a party which at the time demanded the abolition of NATO, when in 1998, he went to bed with the Greens. Shortly after the formation of the first red-green coalition federal government, Germany joined NATOdeployment in Yugoslavia, after a long introspection of the leader of the Greens at the time, Joschka Fischer.
In the previous legislative elections, Die Linke obtained 9% of the vote. This time around, it is again expected to cross (but perhaps narrowly) the 5% mark required for representation in the Bundestag. It is torn by infighting between more moderate “reformers” and more radical factions. “I am very skeptical that Die Linke will compromise enough to be part of the next government,” says Julia Reuschenbach, political scientist at the University of Bonn. No one ever said forming a coalition was easy. ■
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This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Le specter des ex-communistes”