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In the 2023 Berlin elections, the result for the largest parties was:

Party Seats
CDU 52
SPD 34
Greens 34
Left 22

(the SPD received 53 votes more than the Greens)

80 seats are needed for a majority, so this allows for majority coalitions:

Coalition Seats Mayor
CDU, SPD 86 CDU
SPD, Greens, Left 90 SPD
CDU, Greens 86 CDU

The Berlin news reports that the leader of the SPD is recommending her party to start coalition talks with the CDU. Such a coalition would mean that the SPD loses the position of mayor. In a coalition with Greens and Left (which is also the previous coalition), the SPD would retain the position of mayor. It would seem that it should be strongly preferable for the SPD to hold the position of mayor than to not hold the position of mayor.

Why would the SPD prefer a coalition where they lose the position of mayor to one where they can retain it?

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    The coalition where the Left are present seems to be problematic in curent situation.
    – convert
    Feb 28, 2023 at 19:30
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    Without knowing the details, two generic reasons: It is easier to deal with one partner than with two, or the demands (either in positions or in political actions) by Left or Greens are too burdersome for the SPD electorate.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 1, 2023 at 0:46
  • I would suggest waiting until the end of Wednesday to see whether this actually happens. The FAZ (a conservative newspaper covering all of Germany) claims Ms Giffey will announce this publically on Wednesday and even threatened to resign if this is not done. The other sources, like rbb24 all just write some version of 'there are rumors'.
    – quarague
    Mar 1, 2023 at 7:26
  • @quarague True, maybe they're all deliberate rumours that aim to make the green party demand less.
    – gerrit
    Mar 1, 2023 at 7:31
  • The SPD may simply agree on more things with the CDU. Mar 1, 2023 at 11:44

2 Answers 2

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After waiting for 24 hours, a few more details are now available. The Landesvorstand (state committee) of the SPD has now voted for taking up coalition talks with the CDU, and the Sondierungspapier (exploratory results paper) has been quoted in the media.

Two quotes make statements about why the current coalition of SPD, Greens and Left is appraised to be no longer a "durable and robust project" (dauerhaftes und belastbares Projekt):

Als Gründe führen die Sozialdemokraten „stark überwiegende Eigeninteressen der Grünen“ an. Diese hätten auch Ziele des bisherigen Koalitionsvertrages relativieren wollen...

Ebenfalls als Hinderungsgrund wird die „stark angespannte parteiinterne Situation bei der Linken“ angeführt. Die Sondierer schreiben: „Auf Landesebene bestehen erhebliche Zweifel an der Durchsetzungsfähigkeit verabredeter Positionen in der Breite der Partei.“

(Translation by DeepL)

As reasons, the Social Democrats cite "strongly predominant self-interests of the Greens". The Greens would also have wanted to relativize the goals of the previous coalition agreement...

The "very tense internal situation within the Left Party" is also cited as an obstacle. The explorers write: "At the state level, there are considerable doubts about the ability to implement agreed positions across the party."

I'll follow up with some speculations of my own about what you can read between the lines.

First, the SPD is divided between a left and a right wing. Mayor Franziska Giffey and parliamentary speaker Raed Saleh belong to the right wing, and currently hold a majority in the state party committee. But the left voices are strong. During the day, a number of them could be heard that strongly oppose a coalition with the CDU, among them the youth organisation Jusos, and (regionally) prominent party members like Mark Rackles, Sawsan Chebly or Annika Klose. At the last election for party chairwomanship, Giffey could only win 60% of the votes. (Here is a longer piece by a former SPD election campaigner outlining the left wing position.)

Continuing the SPD/Greens/Left coalition would mean to further strengthen the left wing agenda inside the party, with an inherent risk that when the candidates for the next state elections are selected, Giffey and Saleh will no longer be able to win the leader positions.

Second, the potshot at the internal situation of the Left reminds of the traditional problem the SPD has with this party: From their perspective, the Left is just another social democratic party that competes for the same voters. Strategically, the SPD dreams of removing them from the political landscape and returning to the comfortable situation of times gone by when they were the only credible left party in German parliaments.

Currently the federal Left party is divided and was barely able to retain its presence in the Bundestag. The Berlin state organisation is one of the few that are more or less undivided and has a track record of opposing both old-time GDR sympathisers and Querfront proponents like Sarah Wagenknecht. Their senators (government members) are visible and relatively popular.

Sending them to the opposition benches might look like a possible divide-and-conquer move from the viewpoint of the SPD.

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If the CDU and Greens joined up they would be in the majority and the SPD would be left out. They have to weigh the risk of the CDU/Greens joining up instead of the Greens/Left being willing to join them. While SPD/Greens/Left would be better for the SPD it might be argued that CDU/Greens would be better for the greens as either way they won't be first and there is one less party to deal with in the majority.

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    A CDU/Greens coalition was never a realistic prospect. It was a tactical move by the Greens to enter talks, but the political differences are too great for any compromise to ever gain majority support inside the Green party. Such a coalition was never more than a pipe dream by conservative political commentators.
    – ccprog
    Feb 28, 2023 at 22:42
  • @ccprog That is good to know.
    – Joe W
    Feb 28, 2023 at 23:10
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    @Fizz While I can talk about CDU/Greens, this would fall short of answering the question, i. e. explaining the CDU/SPD option. Especially after the Giffey comment about the "workable way" regarding the expropriation referendum, I still are as suprised as gerrit was. Answers will probably emerge in the next few days.
    – ccprog
    Mar 1, 2023 at 2:00
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    @ccprog This is true for Berlin but CDU/Green coalitions exist on work fine in some other German states. During the election campaign in Berlin both the CDU and the Greens made public statements that essentially said they don't want to work together. Both were a lot more open about working together with the SPD (and the Linke in case of the Greens).
    – quarague
    Mar 1, 2023 at 7:30
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    @gerrit your negotiating power is precisely equal to your willingness to walk away. The possibility of CDU/Greens gives Greens more negotiating power with SPD/Linke. But it works both ways: the possibility of CDU/SPD gives SPD more negotiating power with Greens/Linke. Mar 1, 2023 at 11:45

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