Germany’s SPD will Continue to Decline Despite New Leadership
In Autumn, seventeen candidates attempted to become the new heads of Germany’s Social Democrats. In twenty-three regional conferences across the whole republic, they introduced themselves to party members and the public in an attempt to establish themselves as the perfect fit for the former working-class party that is fighting survival at this stage.
After the, what German media dubbed a controversial casting tour, concluded, over 425.000 SPD members were eligible to vote. By the end of November, it came down to the last two remaining teams. Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Finance Scholz and his co-candidate Klara Geywitz were expected to win, according to the polls. To everyone’s surprise, it was the other remaining duo that succeeded.
Congratulations to Walter Borjans, former Finance Minister of North Rhine-Westphalian and Saskia Esken, Member of Parliament. For those who now feel ignorant for not having heard their names rest assured that neither had most Germans. With just under 53 percent, both prevailed. Now Germany’s former proud major party is led by two individuals, who hardly ever appeared in federal politics before and who have been labeled inexperienced and low-profile – in the more moderate assessments of Germany’s media.
The latter did not stop voters from putting their faith in Borjans and Esken. Moreover, it illustrates their states of mind: the profile is secondary, experience tertiary. Relevant, so it appears, is only the stance on the grand coalition. As an exit, so the legend goes, would reanimate the patient SPD.
The notion that the grand coalition needed to be revisited was a significant part of Borjans’ and Esken’s program. Scholz and Geywitz were in favor of continuing to work with the CDU/CSU. The voters disagreed. Moreover, despite several high-profile MPs siding openly with Scholz and Geywitz, both received just under 45 percent.
After the latest crushing state election defeats, where the former major party even failed to score double digits at times, change was desperately needed. The youth wing within the party, the “JUSOS,” and their chair Kevin Kühnert have long been opponents of the grand coalition and seek a hard turn to the left. Naturally, the group endorsed Borjans and Eskens.
Borjans’ and Esken’s manifesto reveals where the journey is supposed to go. Among other things, the team seeks to turn away from the balanced federal budget, one of Merkel’s signature policies, increase the minimum wage to €12 per hour, force the implantation of stricter climate policies and renegotiate the coalition agreement. The issue? Particularly the latter is pretty much seen as impossible with the CDU, as already stated by chair Kramp-Karrenbauer. Nonetheless, the pressure on Borjans and Eskens in on, and the base wants to see results, if necessary, a long-awaited goodbye to the grand coalition.
The result marked a paradigm shift, that was more than necessary. For the SPD to become successful again, it needs to reinvent itself first. Ten years as Merkel’s junior partner and a CDU that, under Merkel, has moved further and further to the middle, have left little room for the SPD to score with an own identity.
A sharp turn to the left and away from the CDU’s moderate stances should thus work in theory. However, it is hard to believe that the two new chairs possess the pedigree to facilitate the party’s resurrection. Furthermore, the division within the party has widened. Young, uber progressives attempt to replace the pragmatist, who, for obvious reasons, have no interest in a new general election. The voter turnout for the candidates also illustrates the divide and the lack of faith in future leadership. Only 54.9% of the 425.000 members submitted a vote, despite their party being desperate for a change, of course.
Most importantly, if Borjans and Eskens were indeed to facilitate an opt-out of the grand coalition and force a new general election, can both be trusted in running a campaign of this magnitude? Furthermore, where would it leave the party that currently polls between 13 and 15 percent? Both are questions, few people can answer in bravery.
Indeed, within their first month, they have yet to make a noteworthy statement or introduce relevant agendas. In fact, the threat of breaking with the grand coalition has been semi-recanted since, leaving both as yet two more politicians operating under the Machiavellian credo “whatever is necessary”.
Faith and trust outside the SPD in Borjans and Eskens are thus non-existent. So much so, the FDP’s Vice-chair Kubicki publicly tested his clairvoyance and stated that both would “not survive the first six months” as the SPD’s leadership.
It has been almost two decades of decrease popularity and inadequate party chairs. This time, it was supposed to be different. A magnum opus of party democracy. A vote for the people, by the people. The result remains the same. And so will the SPD’s descent.