New SPD leaders pull back from sinking German coalition
By Holger Hansen
BERLIN (Reuters) - Leaders of Germany's Social Democrats are leaning away from proposing the party quit Chancellor Angela Merkel's government as they work on a motion to put to delegates at a party congress, party sources said.
Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, leftist critics of the coalition with Merkel's conservatives, won a vote for leadership of the SPD on Saturday, putting Europe's largest economy at a political crossroads.
But Esken and Walter-Borjans, interim SPD leader Malu Dreyer and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed a wording on Tuesday for the motion that avoids setting tough conditions for staying in the coalition, three people familiar with the matter said.
At the congress, starting on Friday, the SPD is set to call on Merkel's conservatives to discuss new measures to stabilize Germany's slowing economy and improve an already agreed climate package, the sources said.
"Today, we constructively discussed the right path into the new era," Walter-Borjans told the SPD's party newspaper Vorwaerts. He added: "One thing is clear: We do not want to get out of the grand coalition head over heels."
A decision by the SPD to leave the coalition would have thrown Germany into a political crisis and opened the prospect of a snap election.
A draft of the main motion seen by Reuters showed that SPD leaders are set to call for a large public investment push that should not be hindered by "dogmatic positions" such as the government's "black zero" budget policy of no new debt.
The SPD shares the view of leading economists and business groups that public investment of more than 450 billion euros ($500 billion) needed over the next 10 years cannot be financed through reallocation of existing funds alone, the draft said.
Public investment should not be limited to times of economic growth because keeping investment levels persistently high would help local authorities to overcome planning bottlenecks and construction firms to hire more staff to boost capacity.
"In this sense, steady investment must not be prevented by dogmatic positions such as Schaeuble's black zero," the document said, referring to former Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, the mastermind of the self-imposed budget goal of not incurring any new debt.
The SPD leaders' main motion calls for a higher minimum wage, without repeating previous demands from Esken and Walter-Borjans for increasing Germany's wage floor to 12 euros per hour from 9.19 euros currently.
The SPD's party board is expected to discuss and finalize the main motion for the party conference on Thursday morning, with changes to the wording still possible.
($1 = 0.9073 euros)
(Reporting by Holger Hansen, Writing by Michael Nienaber, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)