On Thursday, the German Social Democrat’s (SPD) party congress green-lighted talks with Chancellor Merkel’s center-right CDU that could lead to another grand coalition between the two parties (and the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, CSU). The Social Democrats had long resisted such a move, insisting that they needed to seek “renewal” in opposition.
However, after the breakdown of talks to form a “Jamaica” coalition consisting of CDU/CSU, the Greens and the pro-market FDP, the pressure on the SPD was mounting. Actors from the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to a majority of the German public, to a majority of SPD supporters, called on the SPD to reconsider.
The party’s price for entering a grand coalition could be a “radically different vision of Europe” as the Washington Post reported on Thursday. Mr Schulz called for a new Constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe by 2025. Countries that don’t ratify this constitution would have to leave the EU automatically.
As a seasoned veteran of all things EU, Mr Schulz is probably aware that his proposal won’t fly in Europe. However, as far as German domestic politics is concerned, he may be on to something. Public sentiment in Germany is strongly pro-EU and a majority of Germans support more integration in the EU. These are the results from the most recent data from the European Social Survey.
There is considerable support for an increase in EU integration, as figure 1 shows. More than 53 percent of respondents in Germany supported an increase in integration while another 15.7 percent (the mode) are in the middle between strong support for either of the two extremes (“European unification has already gone too far” and “European unification should be further”).
Figure 1: Support for EU integration, ESS data
This political sentiment is also reflected by the emotional attachment Germans feel towards the EU. Figure two shows that almost 62 percent of respondents in Germany score higher than the value of five; the value at the center of the distribution which can be taken to signify emotional indifference towards the EU.
Figure 2: Emotional attachment to the EU, ESS data
Both values are considerably higher in Germany than they are in the rest of the EU countries in the ESS sample. Support for further increases in EU integration in those countries is at around 35 percent, while positive emotional attachment is felt by 54 percent of respondents.
What does that mean for Martin Schulz and the Social Democrats? If Mr Schulz is able to sell the SPD’s entry into yet another grand coalition as a feat that furthers the process of European unification, this should go down well with many Germans. Support for the EU is strong and strengthening integration is viewed favorably by a majority of Germans. This could help Mr Schulz in overcoming resistance from within the SPD. Furthermore, EU integration is in the DNA of the SPD’s prospective coalition partner, with famed first chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) being widely viewed as the father of “western integration” (“Westbindung”). Whether these positive views of the EU translate into German willingness to support more redistribution within Europe, as French President Macron’s plan seem to suggest, is, of course, another matter.