German SPD rows over pact with ex-Communists

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The Independent Online
GERMANY'S opposition Social Democrats (SPD) appeared to be heading for a potentially explosive showdown over the issue of co-operating with East Germany's former communists, the PDS.

SPD officials warned of 'an enormous row', if Social Demcorats in the east German state of Mecklenburg- West Pomerania agreed on an informal alliance with the PDS in the regional parliament there, following elections last weekend.

Rudolf Scharping, the SPD's national leader, yesterday telephoned Harald Ringstorff, the party's regional leader, warning him to back off from doing deals with the PDS. But Mr Ringstorff's team remained defiant. In the words of Thomas Freund, spokesman for Mr Ringstorff: 'People won't let their decisions be taken from them by Bonn. Schwerin (the capital of Mecklenhurg) is Schwerin. Bonn is Bonn.'

Mr Ringstorff said that he agreed with Mr Scharping that there would be 'no coalitions' between PDS and SPD. But this is partly a matter of semantics.

Even without a formal coalition, the federal SPD is already worried that Mr Ringstorff might use the votes of the PDS to become Mecklenhurg's prime minister - with enormously embarrassing implications.

The issue of co-operation between SPD and PDS was one of the hottest issues in in the lead-up to the German federal elections on Sunday. In the east German state of Saxony-Anhalt, the SPD and the PDS had struck a half-deal earlier this year which allowed the SPD to form a minority government, 'tolerated', in the official phrase, by the PDS.

The federal election results seemed to put an end to discussion of the relationship between the PDS and the SPD, since the electoral arithmetic meant that even the SPD and the former Communists together would not be able to unseat Mr Kohl.

But even greater explosions may still be on the way. In Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, and in the east German state of Thuringia, the CDU lost their parliamentary majority on Sunday, because of the local death of their coalition allies, the Free Democrats. In Thuringia, the solution may be a grand coalition of SPD and CDU, which can together block the PDS.

Dagmar Wiebusch, SPD party spokeswoman, insisted yesterday that co-operation in Schwerin between the SPD and PDS was unthinkable. 'They won't do it.

Scharping won't accept it. There'd be a big explosion.' She acknowledged the right of the regional SPD to take its own decisions, but insisted: 'No Land (regional) party has the right to damage the party.'

Parliamentary parties met in Bonn yesterday to plan their next moves, following the elections, in which Chancellor Helmut Kohl's coalition narrowly survived. The Christian Democrats are set to continue their coalition with their previous partners, the much-weakened Free Democrats (FDP), with a cabinet which may be reduced. Meanwhile, there have been calls from within the FDP for a change of leadership. Klaus Kinkel, the party leader, and German Foreign Minister, will be under enormous pressure, at a party conference to be held in December.