From ‘Scholzomat’ to ‘Robin Hood’: Who wants to lead Germany’s SPD?

After a series of electoral setbacks, Germany's Social Democrats will choose their new leaders on Saturday in an attempt to revive the party's fortunes.

From 'Scholzomat' to 'Robin Hood': Who wants to lead Germany's SPD?
Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz stand next to Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken after a live stream debate for the SPD leadership race. Photo: DPA

The two pairs in the running – each composed of a man and a woman– will share the leadership of the SPD.

Politically on the centre and left of the party, they could help determine the future of the current governing coalition which is due to end in 2021.

In the latest opinion polls, the party which came second in the 2017 federal election is currently vying for third place with the far-right AfD, behind Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and the Greens.


Here are the profiles of the four candidates.

Klara Geywitz and Olaf Scholz

Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz during a recent debate. Photo: DPA

Klara Geywitz, a grassroots lawmaker.

Political scientist Geywitz was relatively unknown in Germany until just a few months ago but the 43-year-old is now in pole position to take over – along with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz.

The pair came first in an initial round of voting, although only by a narrow margin, against the more left-wing Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken.

Long-time SPD member Geywitz is an experienced politician from Brandenburg, a region of former East Germany that includes the capital Berlin.

She was also involved in negotiations that led to the current governing coalition with the CDU and its Bavarian CSU sister party following an inconclusive election in 2017.

She is known for her biting irony. On the campaign trail, she has fought off suggestions that she is a token candidate alongside Scholz.

Olaf Scholz, Deputy Chancellor:

The 61-year-old Finance Minister and Deputy Chancellor–- a moderate centrist – is a party heavyweight.

But he is divisive within the party, which is split between those for and against the current coalition agreement with Merkel's CDU.

Scholz says this coalition “should be the last” but his willingness to stay in government has proved controversial – particularly as support for the party has plunged in a series of regional elections.

Like his conservative predecessor as finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, he is attached to budget discipline and the self-imposed zero deficit rule.

Born in Osnabrück, Scholz joined the SPD when he was 17 and flirted with the far left of the party in his youth. He was first elected to parliament in 1998.

During his stint as SPD general secretary between 2002 and 2004, he was forced to defend chancellor Gerhard Schröder's unpopular economically liberal reforms.

This earned him the nickname “Scholzomat” for his robotic public appearances.

Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken

Norbert Walter-Borjans, a Robin Hood figure?

A former finance minister for the North Rhine-Westphalia region, Walter-Borjans is referred to in German media by the nickname “Nowabob”.

The 67-year-old is also often referred to as the “Robin Hood of taxpayers” for a spectacular move against tax evasion.

In 2011, he arranged the purchase of data on German tax evaders in Switzerland. The repatriation of their assets swelled government coffers by billions.

Walter-Borjans started out in politics in 1984 and quickly rose through the ranks of regional government.

Between 2010 and 2017, he served as the region's finance minister with the support of the party's more leftist youth wing.

He has said he is a “staunch social democrat” but has not openly called for an end to the coalition.


Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken. Photo: DPA

Saskia Esken, anti far-right campaigner:

Esken, 58, is best known for her campaigns in favour of equal opportunities and digital access and against the far right.

She was first elected to parliament in 2013 and is on the left of the party. She favours state intervention in the fight against climate change.

READ ALSO: Why can't Germany's Social Democrats pull themselves together?

Born in Stuttgart, Esken joined the SPD in 1990 and held various roles in the regional administration of Baden Württemberg.

In 2009, she set up an “Alliance Against the Right” in the town of Calw, where the neo-Nazi NPD was planning to set up its regional headquarters.

She has been critical of the coalition and its “politics of small steps” but has also not openly called for the SPD to pull out of it.


IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

G7 leaders are meeting in Bavaria to discuss important issues including Russia's war on Ukraine and the food crisis. The event is known for producing memorable pictures. Here's a look at the best images and tweets so far.

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

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The Group of Seven wealthy nations is holding their annual summit in the stunning surroundings of the Bavarian Alps. 

The world leaders are engaged in talks at the Schloss Elmau with a focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine, climate change, energy, the global food crisis and rising inflation. 

The G7 gatherings are known known for producing some memorable photos and amusing moments, and this year is no exception. Here’s a look at the best so far. 

When the G7 summit started on Sunday, the southern state of Bavaria became the standout attraction. 

Leaders of the nations involved – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA – were given traditional Bavarian welcomes. 

Spearheaded by Bavarian premier Markus Söder, the leaders were greeted by people clad in Bavarian costumes, such as the dirndl. 

It sparked heated debates on how Germany is portrayed to the rest of the world.  

READ ALSO: Can Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Journalist Mathieu von Rohr said on Twitter: “It’s hard to imagine what Söder would have done to Germany’s image in the world as chancellor.”

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costumes after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costume after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th.

The left wing newspaper Taz on Monday led with a front page that included this headline: “Finally, indigenous peoples at the G7 summit”.

READ ALSO: Why Bavaria does politics differently to the rest of Germany

The photo of US President Joe Biden signing his name in the Bavarian guest book to Germany produced lots of good captions. 

Nathan Ma poked fun at Germany’s infamous overly complicated contracts that are hard to get out of.

Commentators in Germany have also been making their views known about the events at the summit. 

German broadcaster BR said in an opinion article that the opening G7 event was “like a Monty Python sketch”.

Writer Max Büch said: “Yes, it’s embarrassing that Joe Biden is being coerced by Markus Söder to sign the guestbook at the airport.”

He added: “But people in traditional costume are not embarrassing per se. Even if taz’s ‘indigenous peoples at the G7 summit’ is meant satirically, the title hits a very true core of the image that the rest of Germany still has of Bavaria.”

The southern German traditions continued with Schuhplattler, a traditional style of folk dance popular in the regions of Bavaria and Tyrol. 

“Bavaria makes up perhaps 10 percent of Germany,” one journalist said in another tweet on the Schuhplattler video. “But 90 percent of people abroad think this is all of us.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder defended the opening ceremony. 

He said on Twitter: “Bavaria is the land of homeland and custom: many thanks to our traditional costume associations, musicians and mountain riflemen for their support in welcoming the G7 heads of state. They present the Free State and our traditions with great pride. It was a great backdrop.”

Like every year, the pictures of G7 leaders joking around and getting up, close and personal have also been commented on.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau.
We’d love to be a fly on the wall for the private conversations being held between the leaders. Here German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on in amusement at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th.

The lack of women G7 leaders was also commented on.