On Tuesday Andrea Nahles could make history for the Social Democrats by becoming the party’s first ever female leader in its 154-year existence – albeit temporarily.
Nahles, who is currently head of the SPD’s parliamentary group, could take over the party’s chairmanship on a provisional basis as Schulz – weakened by a poll debacle and one too many U-turns – is expected to step down.
“I have tried to give the party strength and courage, but I can't do justice to the expectations,” Schulz said last week, tapping 47-year-old Nahles as his replacement.
Toward the end of the general election in September, in which the SPD scored a historic low of 20.5 percent, Nahles spoke of a need for a different culture in the leadership of the male-dominated party.
This is the least female German parliament since 1998, with SPD lawmakers in the Bundestag comprising of 89 males and 64 females.
But Nahles taking over as caretaker leader has been met with internal resistance, as legal concerns have been highlighted by party members.
Regarding the potential for Nahles to take the position of party chair immediately, chairman of the Committee of Social Democratic Lawyers Harald Baumann-Hasske told Die Welt on Tuesday: “There is no basis for this in our charter.”
Nahles could “by no means make decisions of great significance,” for instance on party finances, the lawyer added.
According to media reports, resistance is also forming within the Berlin SPD. Broadcaster rbb reports that the party’s state executive board agreed nearly unanimously on Monday evening that one of Schulz's deputies should replace him. The SPD has six deputy leaders, half of whom are women.
Meanwhile in a surprise for many, mayor of Flensburg Simone Lange announced her candidacy for the SPD chairmanship on Monday evening – allowing her to take on Andrea Nahles.
Simone Lange. Photo: DPA
“I promote grassroots candidacy and would like to give members a voice again and involve them seriously in this decision-making process,” the 41-year-old wrote in a letter to the federal board of the SPD, which was made available to the German Press Agency (DPA).
Lange, who has been a member of the SPD since 2003 and mayor of Flensburg since mid-January, said that she wants to give Social Democrats the feeling “that it is them who determine the party's mood and direction.”
This would also be a first step “to make the SPD what it once was: a proud party of social justice.”
Lange went on to write that, regarding the party’s new chairmanship, a candidacy decided by officials and waved through without much discussion could not be a sign of an upswing or a new beginning, rather it would only confirm many people's sense of powerlessness.
The SPD’s presidium and executive board plan to discuss next steps on Tuesday afternoon.
Whether or not Nahles is appointed as provisional party leader, a permanent party chair would still have to be voted on at a party congress within three months.