As Germany’s Social Democrat Party of Germany (SPD) heads into an unexpected period of transition after its former head Martin Schulz shocked many by stepping down at the weekend, the leadership of the party now appears to be in the hands of Andrea Nahles.
Nahles is expected to replace Schulz after the latter was forced to give up his plans to become foreign minister in a newly formed coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) after he came under heavy internal pressure last Friday.
Handing over the leadership of the SPD may not be as simple as many in the party would like as resistance to Nahles is growing. Social Democrats from Schleswig-Holstein, Berlin, and Saxony-Anhalt have hinted that any one of Schulz’ six former deputies could become the next SPD leader.
Simone Lange, the mayor of Flensburg, announced her candidacy to take over the SPD party presidency – as an alternative to Nahles. Lange has served as Flensburg’s mayor since early 2017. Schulz’ pick, the 47-year old Nahles, previously wanted to avoid a career in politics but became an SPD stalwart after finishing her studies. By 2009, she was general secretary of the party itself, and by 2013 Germany’s Labour Minister in Merkel’s third cabinet.
The SPD members in Berlin and Saxony-Anhalt who oppose handing the reins over to Nahles include Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller, who said before a meeting of the SPD’s top committees that his national association wants “the party’s chairs elected through an orderly process of delegates at a federal party convention, rather than appointed.”
The chairman of the Association of Social Democratic Lawyers in the SPD, Harald Baumann-Hasske, also brought up the legality of appointing a new chair, per the party’s charter. He told German news agency, “Die Welt”, that “there no statutory basis exists in the SPD’s rules that allows for the appointment of a new party leader.
Coalition could be in doubt
The coalition deal signed with Merkel’s conservatives could be in jeopardy as the battle for the SPD leadership continues to play out. Many SPD rank and file members harbour serious misgivings about entering into a new government with Merkel again. A “no” vote would likely trigger a new general election.