Leadership row drags SPD into new crisis after Merkel coalition deal

Leadership row drags SPD into new crisis after Merkel coalition deal

Mr Schulz said he was handing over to a left-winger, Andrea Nahles, with immediate effect.

Schulz said an extraordinary party congress would be held in the western city of Wiesbaden on April 22 to pick a new leader.

Nahles, 47, shot to national political fame during the fraught days of the last SPD government 15 years ago when, as a left-wing lawmaker, she helped lead a party rebellion against its tough social reforms.

The party's membership will vote next week on the coalition deal struck last week between Mr Schulz and Mrs Merkel. SPD members will vote on the coalition deal next month - the result is expected on 4 March.

Schulz said that he hoped his resignation would pave the way for "a new beginning" of the SPD and allow party members to focus on the coalition deal rather than personnel issues.

The German Press Agency (DPA) reported that Hamburg's First Mayor Olaf Scholz, who will probably become Germany's finance minister in the upcoming new government, will be SPD's caretaker chairman until the April election.

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The planned handover of the SPD leadership from Martin Schulz to Andrea Nahles is also viewed with skepticism, according to a survey by Emnid for Sunday's edition of the Bild newspaper. "No more indiscipline in the SPD", said Ralf Stegner, the regional SPD leader in Schleswig-Holstein. If party members reject the agreement, the new coalition government can't be formed.

The development followed Schulz's announcement Friday that he was abandoning plans to become foreign minister in the new government.

Schulz's decision to accept the post of foreign minister has also irked the incumbent, his party colleague Sigmar Gabriel, who called the move "disrespectful" on Thursday evening.

Nahles said that she would start campaigning at the weekend for members to approve the coalition agreement with Merkel.

An INSA poll published on Tuesday showed the SPD at a record low of 16.5 percent, only 1.5 percentage points ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). Social Democrats from Schleswig-Holstein, Berlin, and Saxony-Anhalt have hinted that any one of Schulz' six former deputies could become the next SPD leader. After fierce criticism from some former allies, Schulz ditched plans to take the post of foreign minister.

The SPD originally wanted to reinvent itself in opposition but reconsidered when Merkel's attempt to form an alliance with two smaller parties failed late a year ago.

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