What still gives the SPD hope

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Sun 9th May, 2021

We are the party of the moment," says Olaf Scholz. Moreover, the German finance minister and former First Mayor of Hamburg believes he is the right political leader for the country's future. Significant parts of his party are now of the same opinion.The party congress in Berlin on Sunday will at least provide some indication of the level of support for Scholz's candidacy for chancellor within the SPD. The 600 or so delegates who have been digitally invited to the event in the City Cube can confirm or reject what their party executive board decided months ago, in the summer of last year.

In addition, the party conference will discuss the Social Democratic election program for about two and a half hours. The motto of the meeting is "Out of respect for your future. In the past, the debate on the program took days. The SPD party leadership justifies the fact that it will happen so quickly this time with the optimal preparation and the current great unity of the party. The "Program for the Future," about 50 pages long, was written by thousands of authors who participated in workshops and debate camps. And because the discussion had been so broad in advance, there was now less need for discussion.

Olaf Scholz will then speak at the end of the event, which will last about four hours. It is said that it should not only be a speech to the delegates, but one to Germany. His predecessor Martin Schulz, buoyed by initial enthusiasm, probably had his greatest moment at the election party conference four years ago, when he was nominated with an even 100 percent. From then on, things went downhill.

The social democratic organizers want things to go the other way around for Scholz. From Sunday on, things should get better for the SPD, go uphill. The very next week, the constituency candidates and election workers in the city and country would swarm out, spread the program and the chancellor candidacy, not just digitally, but also in the mailboxes.

From its position of weakness - polls see it at 15 to 17 percent - the SPD wants to gain more and more attention, more and more approval for its program and its candidate in the weeks leading up to the election. And although Scholz has been a quasi-candidate for eight months, but the poll results have not moved forward practically an inch, the virtual Berlin meeting is now supposed to start a race to catch up. In the end, voters would carry the party into the chancellorship that, in the view of Scholz and his ilk, can keep Germany in the top league economically, socially, in terms of climate policy and internationally.

Lars Klingbeil, who as secretary general is responsible for the bigger picture, explains what that means and why others can't: "The Union is broken," he says, and Armin Laschet won't recover from the setbacks. With the candidacy of former President of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution Hans-Georg Maaßen in Thuringia, "the door to the right is being pushed open." Maaßen, and with him AfD-affiliated thinking, would be "brought into the center of the Union".

Incidentally, the SPD says, this could be made clear by the election in Saxony-Anhalt on June 6, where the extremist AfD is driving Reiner Haseloff's CDU before it. In any case, the SPD campaign is prepared for a stalemate and the subsequent internal CDU discussion about AfD government participation. Klingbeil had already tried on previous occasions and state elections to portray the CDU as a party on the fringes of the democratic spectrum or, in any case, as insufficiently resolute in distinguishing itself from the AfD.

The green "illusory giants

And the Greens, who are currently miles ahead of the SPD? In Klingbeil's view, they are nothing more than "illusory giants. In the states where they are in government, far too little is being done to protect the climate: Baden-Württemberg, governed by the Green-Black coalition, is in last place when it comes to wind power and photovoltaics. In Hesse, where the CDU and the Greens are in government, a highway is being built with great vigor. With such announcements, further examples are ready, the Social Democrats obviously want to start into a combative election campaign.

And besides, "the SPD is capable of a final spurt." With this, Klingbeil is trying to back up the bold claim that the SPD can become the strongest party in the Bundestag elections in September and would thus take over the chancellorship again after 16 years in the opposition and in the government passenger seat. In support of this thesis is the fact that some SPD state premiers have actually caught up in recent years after initially falling behind in the polls and successfully defended their offices: Malu Dreyer in Rhineland-Palatinate even twice, Peter Tschentscher in Hamburg, Stephan Weil in Lower Saxony.

For the federal party, however, things look different: There, the SPD lost the final sprint in each of the past four elections. And in most cases, the result was the worst ever. The candidates for chancellor in each defeat were Gerhard Schröder, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Peer Steinbrück and, most recently, Martin Schulz. They all started from considerably better initial positions and then lost anyway.

The lack of a Merkel effect gives the SPD hope

However, according to the SPD, everyone lost to Angela Merkel. And she is no longer running. Nevertheless, Scholz has the furthest to go: According to the polls, he and his party are still behind Schulz's result from 2017, which was already considered disastrous. The former European politician had won 20.5 percent, with a loss of five percentage points compared to the previous Steinbrück candidacy.

Klingbeil's thesis is therefore risky to say the least. On the other hand, Scholz will present the delegates with a new calculation, which is all the more valid from the Social Democratic point of view since Armin Laschet has dragged his party down from a zone near 40 percent deep into the twenties, as Klingbeil insinuates. The SPD hopes and strives that the CDU/CSU will not emerge from this situation and that Laschet will not recover. According to Klingbeil, the chancellor will be appointed by the party that comes out on top with a result of around 25 percent.

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