Germany’s Social Democrats elect two new leaders

Germany's governing Social Democrats on Saturday elected a centrist and a left-wing figurehead as its two new leaders, days after their election candidate Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor.

The new SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil (L) and re-elected SPD co-leader Saskia Esken pose
The new SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil (L) and re-elected SPD co-leader Saskia Esken pose during a hybrid party congress of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Berlin, Germany, on December 11th, 2021. HANNIBAL HANSCHKE / POOL / AFP

The SPD returned to government following their victory in September’s election, forming an unprecedented three-party coalition with the Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats after ex-chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure ended.

SPD activists voted for Lars Klingbeil, a centrist close to Scholz, and Saskia Esken, who has served as the party’s co-president for two years and represents its left wing.

Klingbeil, who has been the party’s secretary-general since 2017, received 86.3 percent of votes and Esken 76.7 percent in a mostly virtual SPD congress in Berlin, with numbers limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The SPD’s return to power was initially deemed unlikely, but it emerged from this year’s election with the most votes and seats in Germany’s federal parliament.

Half of the SPD’s MPs are new to parliament and a quarter are younger than 35, symbolising the party’s renewal after years in the wilderness.

“A victory in the legislative elections isn’t enough for me. We must continue on this path,” Klingbeil, 43, told party delegates.

“I want to lead the SPD towards a new strength, a new pride,” added Esken, 60.

Klingbeil, who replaces outgoing leader Norbert Walter-Borjans, has served as the SPD’s general secretary for four years and is viewed as a key actor in the SPD’s electoral revival.

He is credited with uniting the SPD’s different factions behind Scholz for the election and soothing internal divisions.

Kevin Kuehnert, a longtime rival to Scholz and member of the SPD’s left wing, is due to become the party’s next general secretary.

The SPD faces tests in four regional elections next year.


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‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.