Beck sees links with left as SPD’s salvation

Kurt Beck, the weakened leader of Germany’s Social Democrats, on Monday dismissed suggestions he would resign and challenged his party to face up to “new political realities” by forging links with the country’s resurgent ex-communists.

The SPD, junior partner in chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling grand coalition, needed a “a new positioning” towards possible coalition partners, including the Left party, which includes ex-communists and dissident Social Democrats, Mr Beck told a packed press conference in Berlin. He added emphatically that he intended to “keep hold of the reins” of the SPD.

“The rise of the Left party and therefore of a five-party system is a reflection of reality in our society and we must tackle this reality; this is different to [Germany] 10 years ago,” he said.

Mr Beck’s warning came against a backdrop of a marked fall in his personal ratings and support for the SPD following a series of political blunders that have raised questions about his leadership and strategy of moving his party leftwards.

He defended his decision to endorse a possible tie-up between the SPD and the Left party in the regional parliament in Hesse, west Germany.

The move caused uproar within the SPD because of long-standing antagonism towards the Left, but on Monday Mr Beck said a new approach was needed.

Over the past 25 years Germany’s historic three-party system has expanded to include the Greens and, more recently, the Left party, with the result that neither the centre-left nor the centre-right – the country’s traditional political movements – are likely to command national majorities in the near future.

Mr Beck conceded that his leftward shift, aimed at limiting the influence the Left party, had failed. This year the Left party entered three important west German regional parliaments for the first time.

He stressed that, despite the new possibilities of regional alliances with the Left, a coalition at national level next year was ruled out, because of the ex-communists’ “irresponsible” foreign policy. He said the party’s rejection of Nato and of the European Union’s reform treaty made co-operation impossible.

He admitted he had made tactical “mistakes” in his handling of the Left party issue but denied he had broken a promise to voters. “We have to be able to change strategy, otherwise we are paralysed politically”.

Mr Beck had promised before the Hesse election in January that there would be no co-operation with the Left party. Oskar Niedermayer, politics expert at Berlin’s Free university, said voters would not accept the party leader’s excuse so easily. “His credibility is damaged,” he said.

Despite this, and pressure from the party’s pro-reform wing, Mr Beck remains the likely candidate to challenge chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s national elections, party officials said.

●Mr Beck said the SPD would insist that under the partial privatisation of Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned railway operator would remain an integrated company and would not be broken up.

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