Germany’s social democrats nominate first woman leader

Andrea Nahles’s first task will be to sell the Merkel coalition deal to SPD members

Chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party  Andrea Nahles: says  coalition agreement carries a “big, fat social democratic signature”.  Photograph: Clemens Bilan

Chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party Andrea Nahles: says coalition agreement carries a “big, fat social democratic signature”. Photograph: Clemens Bilan

 

After 153 years in business, Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party has nominated its first woman – Andrea Nahles – as its next leader.

The announcement came hours after the SPD agreed a programme for government with acting chancellor Angela Merkel, head of the centre-right Christian Democratic (CDU/CSU) alliance.

News that Germany’s two biggest parties could soon be headed by women was a welcome kick-off to Germany’s carnival season on Thursday, when women storm Rhineland town halls to snip off men’s ties and – symbolically – seize power.

Having the 47-year-old Nahles literally grab power of Germany’s oldest political party adds a new wild card to Berlin’s political poker – and speculation about Merkel’s political future.

Since Merkel took over the CDU leadership in 2000, she has seen six SPD leaders come and go as the party grapples with an identity crisis. The next SPD leader hopes that seven will be her lucky number.

From next week, Nahles tours Germany to win over SPD members to a coalition agreement she insists carries a “big, fat social democratic signature”.

With a €46 billion spending plan on welfare and infrastructure, the SPD has loosened Merkel’s purse strings like never before. To guarantee the money is spent, the SPD has wrestled back control of the finance and labour ministries.

As SPD leader, Nahles would stay outside of government. With an eye on the post-Merkel era, party officials said Nahles could “present the party independently, outside the next cabinet”.

Coalition deal

Until March 2nd, SPD members can vote by post on whether to accept the coalition deal. Hinging on the vote, by extension: the Nahles promotion, the credibility of her party – and Merkel’s fourth term.

After polling a disastrous 20.5 per cent last September, the SPD is now on just 17 per cent in polls.

Given that, it would be madness to refuse the deal and would force another election, she warned last month, because voters would “flip us the bird”. Her passionate speech fired up ambivalent delegates and left Schulz looking like yesterday’s man.

Hailing from the Eifel region bordering Luxembourg and Belgium, Nahles joined the SPD 30 years ago and rose through the ranks as a fiery left-winger praised by ex-SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine as a “gift from God” for the party.

After stations as general secretary and labour minister, she said she considered carefully Schulz’s offer of the party leadership.

If the SPD cannot come out successfully from this almost ideal constellation, then they are lost

“I have small daughter of seven years, it’s a big responsibility,” said Nahles, a single mother.

Another reason for considering her position: the SPD leadership has proven a poisoned chalice for her six predecessors. They have lasted just three years on average; Schulz was elected with unanimous support last March but stands down after the SPD’s worst federal election result since 1949.

‘Lacking in respect’

He announced on Wednesday he was swapping the SPD leadership for the foreign ministry, elbowing aside incumbent Sigmar Gabriel after less than a year. A furious Gabriel has accused the party he led for eight years of shafting him.

“It’s regrettable how lacking in respect our SPD deal with each other now,” he said.

The anger towards Schulz is all the greater given he ruled out ever joining a Merkel cabinet. The row threatens to overshadow party debate on the coalition deal Berlin policy analysts dubbed solid if unexciting, with a tilt towards social democratic policy and personnel.

“This is the VW Passat of coalition agreements,” said Jan Techau, Europe programme director of the German Marshall Fund think tank. “If the SPD cannot come out successfully from this almost ideal constellation, then they are lost.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.