SPD’s new leader faces old divisions

Andrea Nahles gives a speech before she was elected chairwoman of the party during an extraordinary Social Democrats (SPD) party convention in Wiesbaden, Germany, 22 April 2018. The SPD delegates gather in Wiesbaden to vote for their next party leader electing Nahles as the first woman into this party office. EPA-EFE/HAYOUNG JEON

SPD’s new leader faces old divisions


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By a convincing 66%, the conference of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) elected the 47-year old Andrea Nahles as its new leader.

The new leader faces old divisions, between those opposing SPD’s role in the current government and those who believe that the left must make the most of its influence in government.SPD is in its third coalition government with the Christian Democrats (CDU), shedding electoral influence.

In September 2017, SPD had its worst electoral result since the end of World War II.

At this moment of deep political crisis and divisions, SPD’s general party conference elected the first female national leader.

The party conference in Wiesbaden featured significant discussions on policy, which suggest anything but a consensus on key policy issues.  Nahles stroke a unifying tone in her support of President Macron’s Eurozone reform agenda, largely in opposition to the Christian Democrats (CDU).

However, the party remains divided over how much consensus it can offer to its senior coalition partner, especially in economic policy and the question of Russia.

Nahles succeeds the former President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, who resigned after the catastrophic electoral result of September 2017.

The party is divided over how much consensus can SPD can offer to the senior coalition partner and SPD denied Schultz the chance to remain in government as foreign minister. During the party conference over the weekend, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has been criticised for taking a hardline on Russia Die Welt reports.

Nahles’s only challenger was also a woman; the 41-year old Simone Lange is the mayor of Flensburg criticised her own party for sticking to Wolfgang Schaeuble’s budget surplus policy.

Her criticism was focused against Olaf Scholz, finance minister and interim leader of SPD since Schultz resigned in February 2018. “A balanced budget can never be at the core of Social Democratic policy,” Lange said. Advocating “real renewal,” she mastered the support of 25% of party delegates.

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