Regional branches of Germany’s Social Democratic Party have hit out at a decision not to expel disgraced former chancellor Gerhard Schroder over his close ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
The SPD received 17 separate applications to expel Mr Schroder, a former politician turned Russian energy lobbyist because of controversial remarks before and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and his work for Russian energy companies.
“The arbitration commission of the SPD subdistrict of the Hanover region has determined that the respondent Gerhard Schroder is not guilty of violating the party rule book, since no violation can be proven,” the commission said.
Mr Schroder’s lawyer Michael Nagel said the ex-chancellor had been confident “that the SPD’s democratic structures would function correctly and that common sense and objectivity would prevail”.
SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil said that, regardless of the decision, Mr Schroder “remains isolated with his positions inside the SPD”.
The SPD in the southwestern city of Heidelberg, one of the first regional parties to demand his exclusion, said it was “disappointed but not surprised”, given the high legal hurdles for revoking party membership.
The Heidelberg SPD based its application on Mr Schroder’s high-paid supervisory board role for the consortium behind the Nord Stream pipeline, controlled by state-owned Russian gas consortium Gazprom. The Heidelberg SPD also took issue with Mr Schroder’s remark in February that “both Russia and Ukraine” had made mistakes.
“He was blaming Ukraine for the war, too,” said Soren Michelsburg, the SPD district chairman in Heidelberg. “We had hoped that at least his behaviour would be attacked or corrected [in the ruling]. We are disappointed about that.”
During his seven years as chancellor, Mr Schroder pursued close contact with Mr Putin and oversaw a boom in bilateral trade and cultural ties.
After his 2005 federal election defeat, while serving as caretaker chancellor, he signed off on the original Nord Stream pipeline, controlled by Gazprom, then joined its supervisory board. In 2017 he was appointed head of the supervisory board of Rosneft, another state-controlled Russian energy company. He gave up the latter position after the Russian invasion and said he would not accept an offer to join the Gazprom supervisory board.
In Hanover, Mr Schroder’s hometown, senior SPD figure Christoph Materne said the decision had been welcomed by many rank-and-file members: “They say: if Gerhard Schroder is excluded then it’s over for me with the SPD after 40 years.”