SPD meets as Schmidt storm rumbles

With weak poll numbers and an awkward scandal filling the airwaves, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) met Tuesday in Hannover hoping for a reboot nine weeks before national elections.

SPD meets as Schmidt storm rumbles
Photo: DPA

The private session featured current Foreign Minister and chancellor-candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier and SPD party head Franz Müntefering trying to the rally 400-odd parliamentary candidates as opinion polls show the party headed for an epic thrashing on September 27.

The latest calamity to hit the party is a scandal involving SPD Health Minister Ulla Schmidt’s official vehicle, a €90,000 armoured Mercedes S-Class, stolen while she was vacationing in Spain.

While Schmidt flew to Spain at her own expense, she planned to attend a few minor official events and requested that her driver make the 2,387-kilometre journey from Berlin in the official car to her vacation flat near the Costa Brava.

A thief stole the car keys from the driver’s unlocked apartment and made off with the Mercedes last weekend. Rival politicians and headline writers have had a field day with the news, saying the incident underscores how out of touch the SPD has become after 11 years in power.

Müntefering tried to play down the limo incident at Tuesday’s event and defended Schmidt.

“Ulla Schmidt has already had to live with prejudices many times,” Müntefering said, noting that she had been attacked by opponents just in the past weeks over changes to how doctors are paid. “This is an experienced and mature woman who will hold her own through this, I’m very certain,” he said.

The most recent opinion polls show the Social Democrats drawing just 24 percent of the vote versus 36 percent for their right-of-centre Christian Democratic Union rivals.

A repeat of the current “Grand Coalition” between the CDU and SPD seems increasingly unlikely as the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) continues to gain strength, now drawing 14 percent of support in polls. Both the FDP and CDU have said they would prefer to rule together in a coalition government.

Chancellor-candidate Steinmeier will begin a “summer trip” through Germany to win over voters. On Thursday, he will announce his “election campaign team” in an effort to signal those likely to be important players in a future SPD government.

Steinmeier’s mentor, former chancellor Gerhard Schröder also attended the Hannover event to speak about campaign strategies.

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EU ministers urge unity after Germany’s energy ‘bazooka’

EU finance ministers on Monday pleaded for unity after Germany announced a €200 billion plan to help German households and businesses pay for high energy prices, amid accusations that the EU's biggest economy was acting alone.

EU ministers urge unity after Germany's energy 'bazooka'

Europe is struggling with historically high energy prices as it faces an early autumn cold snap and a coming winter almost certainly to be endured without crucial Russian gas supplies because of the war in Ukraine.

Many EU countries have announced national programmes to shield consumers from the high prices. But Germany went the furthest on Friday when it announced its mammoth plan, which will see help pouring to Germans for two years.

Arriving to talk with his eurozone counterparts, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner insisted the spending was “proportionate” to the size of Germany’s economy and said his goal was to use as little of the money as possible.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

But Germany’s largesse rankled several EU capitals, some of which feared their industries could take severe blows while Germany’s sits protected, deforming the EU’s single market.

Outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has slammed Berlin for its lack of solidarity and coordination with EU partners.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, without directly criticizing Berlin, called on partners to agree a common strategy against the price shock and for countries to refrain from going it alone.

“The more this strategy is coordinated, united, the better it is for all of us,” he said.

Risk to ‘European unity’

Others pointed to the unprecedented solidarity shown in the Covid-19 crisis in which the 27 EU nations, against all expectations, approved a jointly financed €750 billion recovery plan.

“Solidarity is not only on the German shoulders, I think this is something that we have to deliver at European level,” said EU economics affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni.

“We have very good examples from the previous crisis on how solidarity can react to a crisis and also reassure financial markets. I think that this is our goal,” he said.

While a Covid-style recovery plan is not in the cards for now, Le Maire said €200 billion in loans and €20 billion in aid should be devoted to REPowerEU, a programme to help countries break their dependence on Russian gas.

READ ALSO: Will Germany set a gas price cap – and how would it work?

Bruegel, a highly influential think tank in Brussels, called the German plan a spending “bazooka” that many EU countries were unable to match, creating a potential source of animosity.

“If the German gas price brake gives German business a much better chance to survive the crisis than, say, Italian business, economic divergences in the EU could be deepened, and European unity on Russia undermined,” it said in a blog.