SPD propose welfare reforms to halt its dramatic slide

Germany’s oldest political party gripped by existential crisis following election disasters

Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) plans to halt its dramatic slide into political oblivion with a radical reworking of welfare reforms that started its slide in 2005.

Struggling in polls, and facing three state election disasters in 2019, SPD leader Andrea Nahles has promised measures to make welfare fairer for its traditional core electorate.

Ex-SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced the so-called “Agenda 2010” reforms 14 years ago, which were credited with turning around the German economy.

But many SPD voters abandoned the party in protest at what they viewed as draconian measures betraying the working class.


One contested measure gives jobless Germans just one year of dole payments at two-thirds of their final salary, before sliding down to the welfare minimum of €424 monthly.

Another rule requires welfare recipients to move to a smaller home if their existing accommodation exceeds strict limits for rent allowance.

On Tuesday, SPD leader Andrea Nahles promised to bin “Agenda 2010” in favour of “Welfare State 2025”.

Among new proposals: allow jobseekers over 58 double the duration of dole payments – or longer depending on circumstances; and greater flexibility on living space.

‘Abolish job centre sanctions’

“Those affected need their energy to find a new job, not a new apartment,” said Ms Nahles, promising to abolish job centre sanctions if they “make no sense . . . beyond causing new problems”.

Anticipating criticism from her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) coalition partner, Ms Nahles insisted that welfare payment levels should remained unchanged, “out of responsibility for those who work every day”.

Within hours, the CDU were on the case, rubbishing the SPD plans as “irresponsible”.

“Increasing the duration of dole payments for older jobseekers creates completely the wrong kind of incentive,” said Joachim Pfeiffer, the CDU’s business affairs spokesman.

The CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said the proposed measures would make Germany once again an economic “basket case”.

But SPD leaders are carrying on regardless, pushing a new pension floor of €961 a month for everyone who has worked more than 35 years.

As their proposals are not part of the programme for government, they are more promotional material for looming elections – or bargaining chips when a grand coalition review clause kicks in later this year.

Gripped by an existential crisis on just 14 per cent in opinion polls – down six points on its disastrous 2017 election result – Germany’s oldest political party has little left to lose.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin