Germany: Martin Schulz steps down as SPD head

Germany's Schulz steps down to ease tensions within SPD

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) faced further criticism on Monday (12 February) from within their own parties over a new coalition deal that must still be approved by disgruntled SPD rank-and-file members, write Paul Carrel and Thorsten Severin.

On Tuesday, Schulz said he hoped his decision to resign would result in party members focusing on the coalition treaty rather than personnel issues.

"I depart this office without bitterness or resentment", he said. "It was right when Martin Schulz proposed Andrea Nahles take over the interim leadership", Malu Dreyer, the influential regional prime minister of Rhineland-Palatinate said. The party's 464,000 party members will vote in a postal ballot on the deal, with the results expected to be announced on March 2.

Two sources in the SPD leadership said the party decided not to make Nahles a caretaker leader because it did not want to pre-empt a vote at the party congress and so possibly influence the members' vote on a coalition with Merkel.

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The new governance agreement, however, is yet to be voted on by party members.

In a cartoon on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail.

The resignation of Schulz is a major blow to the stability of the already fragile grand coalition for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who failed to form a coalition government with the libertarian Free Democrats and the Green Party back in November.

That leaves open who from within the SPD may take up that post.

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Scholz played up the SPD's achievements in coalition negotiations with Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Bavarian allies, at which the centre-left party won the powerful finance ministry to the frustration of many in the CDU. Last Wednesday, the SPD reached an agreement with Merkel's Union in formal government coalition negotiations, a move likely to end the longest ever new government vacuum after the September 24 federal elections.

Schulz has also been criticized by fellow SPD politician and current Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for pursuing the post.

The SPD has slid into disarray since its leaders struck the coalition deal last week, blighted by bitter divisions over whether to join the coalition, a loss of confidence in outgoing leader Martin Schulz and discontent over the succession process.

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