Der Tagesspiegel, believes the beleaguered centre-left party can now deal with the issues it has neglected for too long. "/> Der Tagesspiegel, believes the beleaguered centre-left party can now deal with the issues it has neglected for too long. " />


Making the SPD relevant through redundancy

The Social Democrats suffered a resounding defeat in Sunday’s election. Lorenz Maroldt, editor-in-chief of Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, believes the beleaguered centre-left party can now deal with the issues it has neglected for too long.

Making the SPD relevant through redundancy
Photo: DPA

On Sunday evening at 6pm, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was essentially made politically redundant – it was given its walking papers by voters after 11 years in government.

Finally freed of its ideological straightjacket, the party no longer has to address the here and now. The SPD is now completely free to discuss its place in Germany’s five-party political system – and is compelled to find out where it belongs within it. After losing its profile during four years of grand coalition government with Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, the proud 150-year-old SPD can manage this despite Sunday’s crushing defeat.

This is because the disastrous result does not mean that the age of Social Democracy in German society has ended, just that the party that bears its name has to stop being its own worst enemy.

Social Democrats should not forget that they voluntarily and unnecessarily put on their political straitjacket. These constraints weren’t, as many party members assert, a necessity of government. No other party has wrestled more than the SPD with the question of how to make responsible policies for the whole of German society. There is nothing wrong with this. But putting practical issues aside, the Social Democrats often gave the impression they were not even sure if this was the right thing to do. This will not put the electorate in the mood to support a party – even when Germans, by and large, share the SPD’s main political aims.

A strategy paper, conceived and widely circulated at the party’s headquarters in Berlin, sets out ten points purporting to define this discrepancy. According to the document, the SPD projects uncertainty, its leadership lacks authenticity, it has lost credibility and become indistinguishable from other parties. It seems too slow, too indecisive, lacks transparency and sensibility, has protected big business, risked its image as a party of peace and human rights, and appears to have become fainthearted. Overall, the paper offers a dire verdict.

Even if some of the specific points are exaggerated and unfair, they do paint a good enough picture of the SPD in recent years. Central to this has been the fateful internal debate over the relationship with the socialist party The Left – which was born from a merger of East German ex-communists and disgruntled leftist Social Democrats and trade unionists. The Social Democrats have let this discussion become defined by two factors that should have been minor considerations: resentment towards ex-SPD leader and current leftist boss Oskar Lafontaine and fear of conservative propaganda. In doing so, the SPD has strategically sidelined itself.

Instead, the SPD should have entered this election campaign with the self-confidence of a party that has produced three chancellors equal to the responsibilities of the nation: Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder.

It should have declared its claim to govern Germany and left the question of coalitions until after the election. It and other questions central to the future of the Social Democratic Party – and Germany’s political landscape – must be answered now anyway.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Germany’s centre-right CDU to elect new leadership by end of the year

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party will elect its new leadership by the year's end, general secretary Paul Ziemiak said Monday, detailing plans for a clean slate after a disastrous election that the party lost to the Social Democrats.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and CDU leader Armin Laschet on the election campaign trail in Aachen before the election. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

In power for 16 years under Merkel, the Christian Democratic Union is grappling with its deepest crisis in decades after turning in a historic low score in September’s election.

Its leader Armin Laschet last week signalled his readiness to step aside, setting the ball rolling for renewal at the top.

READ ALSO: Laschet signals he’s ready to step down as CDU leader

Ziemiak said a date for the congress to determine the new makeup of the party’s top brass as well as how rank and file members can participate in the leadership selection process will be announced on November 2nd.

But the party’s leaders “today agreed unanimously that we will elect a completely new executive board,” he said, adding that in terms of the calendar, the “window for this is year’s end”.

Bild daily had reported that the party has made a tentative booking for December 6th-13th in Dresden for its possible congress.

READ ALSO: Germany edges a step closer to a government led by Social Democrats

Laschet, who is state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia, was elected head of the CDU in January.

For some time, he was the clear favourite to succeed Merkel, who is bowing out of politics after running four consecutive coalitions.

But his party’s ratings began to slide as he committed a series of gaffes, including being caught on camera laughing in the background during a solemn tribute to flood victims.

With the CDU’s ratings plunging, Merkel tried to boost Laschet’s campaign with joint appearances, but was unable to help the conservatives pull off a win on election day.