Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 08:43:26 AM EST
On Saturday, German media reported that the junior partner in the 'Grand Coalition' ruling at federal level, the Social Democrats (SPD), will officially announce its choice for chancellor candidate for the 2009 elections after a closed meeting on Sunday: Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current foreign minister.
However, in the wake of this apparent unapproved leak, something else happened, too: the party's chairman Kurt Beck, long beleaguered by the party's centrist wing and the mainstream media, turned up at the meeting with long delay, and issued his resignation.
Steinmeier was approved anyway as chancellor candidate, and Franz "Locusts" Müntefering is probably back as party chairman: the Schröderite Old Guard is back. The MSM cheers, but the conflict is not over: the party's left wing already expressed their displeasure with the de-facto coup.
Steinmeier used to be Schröder's closest confidante, the discreet man behind the scenes: he led the former chancellor's Chancellery. His most well known activity was his still not fully revealed involvement (he denies any wrongdoing) in the CIA rendition of two (innocent) residents of Germany.
As foreign minister, he got his photo ops with all the important people (page through SPIEGEL's above linked gallery), and as Bavarian PM Günther Beckstein (CSU; busy campaigning for regional elections) retorted already on Saturday, he kept himself safely away from any practical domestic politics issues (he wasn't absent from the SPD's internal conflict over relations with the Left Party in West Germany, however). Thus just last week, a popularity poll of politicians showed him ahead of Merkel for the first time.
I thought the rush to announce his candidacy was Steinmeier moving in for a kill after said poll result, but according to Beck, media reports were wrong and the decision was made earlier -- however, my suspicions about the backstabbing nature of the media leak were confirmed when I read Beck's resignation letter:
|Becks Rücktrittsbegründung: "Gezielte Falschinformation" - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten - Politik|| Beck's reason for resignation: "Targeted misinformation" - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - Politics |
|Nachdem ich vor gut zwei Wochen Frank-Walter Steinmeier gebeten habe, die Spitzenkandidatur zu übernehmen, haben wir in einer Reihe von Gesprächen sorgfältig und vertrauensvoll die Vorbereitungen getroffen. Teil dieses Konzeptes der Geschlossenheit war auch die Einbeziehung des ehemaligen Parteivorsitzenden Franz Müntefering. Durch die Sondertagung der EU-Außenminister in Brüssel am 1. September 2008 verschob sich die geplante Bekanntgabe der Entscheidung auf den heutigen Tag.||After I asked Frank-Walter Steinmeier about two weeks ago to take over as leading candidate, we met preparations in a careful and confidential way in a series of talks. The involvement of former party chairman Franz Müntefering was part of this concept of unity, too. The special meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 1 September 2008 shifted the planned announcement of the decision to the present day.|
|Aufgrund gezielter Falschinformationen haben die Medien einen völlig anderen Ablauf meiner Entscheidung dargestellt. Das war und ist darauf angelegt, dem Vorsitzenden keinen Handlungs- und Entscheidungsspielraum zu belassen. Vor diesem Hintergrund sehe ich keine Möglichkeit mehr, das Amt des Parteivorsitzenden mit der notwendigen Autorität auszuüben.||Because of targeted misinformation, the media presented my decision in a completely different light. That was and is intended to not leave any decision space for the chairman. Against this background, I see no possibility to exercise the post of party chairman with the necessary authority.|
Beck doesn't name names, but, given that the media reports on Saturday claimed that the decision was made a few days earlier on the insistence of Steinmeier, I think he or his circle are the number one suspect.
Note that Müntefering, who was party chairman in the transition years from Schröder to Merkel, and who left politics last November to be with his (since deceased) terminally ill wife, was another confidante of Schröder. Though he gained some popularity in the party base and party left wing when he famously called private equity firms "locusts", as minister and party boss he was Schröder's always loyal lieutenant who would keep the bureaucracy in line.
Thus, in effect, an old boys' network is back in charge.
Something, I note, which seems to have been long in preparation: Beck (who, for measure, is not a leftie but a power pragmatist) was under attack ever since his move to reconsider relations with the Left Party in the West after the Hessen elections (at the start of this year). Beck was attacked from the SPD's two centrist wings in public, via the media, via leaks to the media, by the SPD-close media, and through surrogates like the boss of an SPD-close polling firm.
The party and the majority of public opinion was won over, but the suicidal conflict over the direction of the party (which already reduced poll numbers significantly) is far from over. I wonder what the new leadership will do about Andrea Ypsilanti, would-be PM of Hessen of a prospective SPD-Greens minority government with Left Party outside support. And I wonder how they will get along with the other Andrea, Andrea Nahles, the most prominent member of the SPD's left wing (she's also Beck's deputy).
Though the party leadership showed unity in support of Steinmeier's candidacy, Nahles commented:
...but then a stern warning in Münte's direction:
|Mit Blick auf Müntefering erklärte er: "Für einen neuen Vorsitzenden gibt es keinen Persilschein." Zu oft habe die SPD durch ständige Führungswechsel inhaltlich überfällige Klärungsprozesse hintenangestellt. Die Programmatik müsse auf der Basis und im Geiste der Beschlüsse des Hamburger Parteitages weiterentwickelt werden. "Wer das nicht erkennt, wird in der SPD keine Geschlossenheit herstellen können." ||With a view to Müntefering said: "There is no free pass for a new chairman." Too often, the SPD put long overdue clarification processes at the end of the line due to constant changes in leadership. The programme should be developed further on the basis and in spirit of the resolutions of the Hamburg party conference. "Someone who fails to recognize that, will not be able to establish unity in the SPD."|
Among other issues, the Hamburg party conference approved Beck's new line on the possibility of cooperation with the Left Party in the West (see in the SPD section of my Fünfparteiensystem diary). Nahles must also remember her conflict with Müntefering last time: she opposed his top-down approach, and her election into the party leadership against Münte's wishes was the reason he resigned as party leader in 2005 (see Election Aftermath: SPD About to Implode? from Saturday and Germany: Twilight of the Gods from me).
Nahles wasn't the only left winger who spoke publicly about the new leaders' limits. Meanwhile, the first indication is that some of the new/old boys in charge want to fight the left wing by accusing it of infighting.
So, will the center-left in the EU's largest state rise again or implode further? If it rises again, will it return to the Third Wayist routine of centrism and media politics and spin, or ill it be forced to keep to some new line? If it further implodes, who will benefit more, the center-right or the hard-left? We'll see in one year, with some early indications from local elections.