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Coup among the German Social Democrats

by DoDo 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.

The photo from SPIEGEL's gallery that IMO best shows Steinmeier's demeanor - and the shadows are symbolic.

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:

Kritik am Machtwechsel: Nahles gibt Genossen Mitschuld am Beck-Rücktritt - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten - Politik Criticism of the leadership change: Nahles says comrades are complicity in Beck's resignation - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - Politics
Mainz - Dass Beck für sich keine Chance mehr gesehen habe, seiner Partei zu dienen, liege auch an "Heckenschützen aus den eigenen Reihen", sagte sie dem Südwestrundfunk. Es habe aber auch eine unvergleichliche mediale Kampagne gegeben...Mainz - That Beck saw no chance for himself anymore to serve his party was also because of "snipers from the own ranks," she told the Südwestrundfunk radio. But there was also an unparalleled media campaign...
Auf mögliche Folgen des Rücktritts für die Linke in der SPD angesprochen rief Nahles jedoch zur Geschlossenheit auf: "Wir werden uns unterhaken, das ist das Wort von Frank-Walter Steinmeier. [..] Die SPD brauche ein Signal und eine neue Kultur der Geschlossenheit. [..]Asked about possible consequences of the resignation for the leftists in the SPD, however, Nahles called for unity: "We will link arms, that's the word from Frank-Walter Steinmeier. [..] The SPD needs a signal and a new culture of unity. [..]


...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.

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Meanwhile, leadership choice in another German party.

The German Greens (the most influential Green party world-wide) don't have a single boss, and there is still significant party democracy. Of the top, there are two - to keep peace in the party, one from the "Fundi" wing, and one from the former "Realo" wing. The latter has been ominously renamed the "Reformer" wing.

Renewal of the post is coming. The fundis want to re-nominate the incumbent, Claudia Roth. Among the 'Reformers', there were two candidates, but 48-year-old Volker Ratzmann withdrew: his partner in life (another Green MP) is expecting their first child, and he chose father duties over a stronger political role. So the choice of MEP Cem Özdemir is now almost certain:

Özdemir would be the first top party politician in Germany with Turkish origins.

Özdemir was a shooting star of the Greens - until two relatively minor scandals concerning some suits he got from an advertiser, and flight bonuses. He paid it back and withdrew from leadership positions for a few years, but now the time was right to return.

(I am somewhat troubled with him on the image front: he seems to be the archetype of the superficial urban yuppie element in the Greens' base, with which lately propagandists both to the left and right try to fully identify the Greens.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:08:00 AM EST
Checking Özdemir's MEP career, I find he was deputy president of the CIA flights commission. Didn't see/remember that.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:12:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A great diary thanks, DoDo.  The inner workings and twists and turns that goes on in political parties just turns into an ongoing saga in every country I think.  It's hard to wrap my head around it all!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:27:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Parties are about ideology, party leadership almost only about old boy networks, which ze Germans call Seilschaften = rope parties (as in mountaineering): there are endless twists and turns indeed :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:58:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Greens can't really ignore their superficial urban yuppie base, though. Their largest potential is in drifting urban middle class voters. At the same time they have to mind not losing too much of their left flank to the Linke.

The debate within the Green party right now is a long shot from the fundi/realo debate of the 80s. There are no longer any real fundis among the Greens (as in, deep ecology/dark greens that have any kind of power).

There's just a more and a less socialist/pacifist flank.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 10:33:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We had dinner with him in Brussels this spring. As some may know, he's/was an EU parliamentarian. He's quite charming and very likable. It was a crowded and loud meal, so I didn't get to speak with him as much as I would have liked, but I was fairly impressed with his spiel.

He made sure to point out that he was the only one of the politicians called out in the mini-scandal that returned the perks, and nobody else was criticized nearly as harshly for the same practices. He didn't say that it was because he was brown, but left us to make our own inferences. And I inferred as much.

by gioele (gioele(daught)sandler(aaaattttt)gmail(daught)kom) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 12:51:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, I also wanted to point out that he has been involved in politics/activism since he was in Gymnasium (high school).
by gioele (gioele(daught)sandler(aaaattttt)gmail(daught)kom) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 12:53:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My impression then was that he got most flak because he was Green (and Gysy pecause he was red): Bild Zeitung; and because he didn't have Rezzo Schlauch's recklessness.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 01:12:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, that makes more sense.

Prejudice and hypocrisy towards lefties being that much more acceptable in the traditional media than that directed towards minorities...

by gioele (gioele(daught)sandler(aaaattttt)gmail(daught)kom) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 01:23:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Despite Nahles' call for unity, how likely is a defection to the Left Party? (and how large is it likely to be?)

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:42:07 AM EST
Hm... I think those who felt like did so already; I feel it would take a major intra-party face-off.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:47:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...for those who remained.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:55:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For some emphasis: the SPD party left includes the leader of the Saarland SPD, who faces off with Lafontaine next year.

Speaking of Lafontaine, if you speak German, here is a hilarious SPIEGEL interview from two weeks ago, where the interviewers try to push the reformist/Schröderite spin line on his SPD past - the spin really collapses on itself, but the interviewers are insistent...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 12:22:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...and who cheers the leadership change in not one but two op-eds for SPIEGEL?

Our good friend Claus Christian Malzahn, SPIEGEL's resident neocon. (Nah I won't link to it.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:54:12 AM EST
Merkel urges cooperation in German coalition amid SPD crisis : Europe World [World Times/Deutsche Presse Agentur]
Berlin - Christian Democrat (CDU) Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged continued cooperation with the Social Democrats (SPD) in her grand coalition government Monday, after the SPD named Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to challenge her in German elections next year. Merkel criticized the weekend manoeuvring in her junior coalition partner that saw the popular Steinmeier named as the SPD candidate for the chancellorship and Kurt Beck ousted as party chairman.

The machinations within the SPD were "unworthy" of a broad-church German party and indicated "deep division," Merkel said, following the unexpected shake-up in the SPD hierarchy on Sunday.

Government spokesman Thomas Steg said Merkel and Steinmeier, who also holds the office of deputy chancellor, aimed to focus on the business in hand "until far into next year."


Merkel is actually being mild here. This was rank amateurism by the SPD. How hard can it be to orchestrate a well-presented leadership change? Their Austrian sister party could do it, and they're a state party by comparison.

It's  we haven't seen the end of the SPD's troubles, yet. The 'reformers' seem to have decided that the battle for control over the SPD is more important than actually winning elections. At some point, the CDU might decide it is not able to govern with the SPD anymore.

The thing that keeps the two parties together is the left party, which would win big if elections come up soon, shifting the balance of the Bundestag further left. Because the reformers in the SPD don't want to govern with them, they will be forced into another grand coalition (where in all probability they will clearly be the minor party -- unlike the parity they now have).

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 09:59:44 AM EST
Merkel is actually being mild here.

At the same time, I can't fail to notice the crocodile tears and forked tongue - from Merkel, and previously from Beckstein :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 10:05:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course they're concern-trolling. Especially Beckstein, who doesn't have to work with the SPD -- yet.

But consider how far they could rub the salt in...

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 10:13:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
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.
I think still it is suspicious, that Kurnaz was freed so shortly after the gov takeover. If Steinmeier really hasn't had his hand in it, then he didn't want to make a decision. The case was know well enough, that action from the top wouldn't have been unusual.

Thus just last week, a popularity poll of politicians showed him ahead of Merkel for the first time.
I'm nearly 100% sure, that the reson for this was the more atlanticist line of Merkel in the Georgia conflict and the more Russophil position of Steinmeier. Usually such issues are forgotten within ~100 days, if there is no follow up. So it depends on the question, if the conflict deescalates or remains critical.

Was there so far a comment or diary on the ARD-Roth/Putin "censorship scandal"?

Steinmeier and Munte  

  • are not going to work together with the left party
  • will keep frogs (friends of Gerd) voting for the SPD, which otherwise might have switched to the CDU, so probably left-of-center parties will keep the majority
  • will lose some people on the left end of their party spectrum to the left party

So the most likely outcome for the next election is another grand coalition, as I guess CDU + Linke > 50%, which, with the SPD refusing to work with the Linke, means Merkel will remain chancellor, no gov against the CDU possible.
CDU + FDP < 50%, CDU + Gruene < 50%, so no other two party coaltion except grand coalition possible. This of course assumes that the SPD remains some harmony. If the SPD continues her inner party disputes, one of these two party coalitions may be possible.
Traffic light and Jamaica seem unlikely, because FDP and greens probably both would ask for rather significant influence - which is not easily possible in a 3 party coalition to provide.

Of course before the election SPD and CDU will battle somewhat, but after the election they will say, the last 4 years weren't so bad, so more of it isn't the worst which can happen.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 11:11:14 AM EST
"friends of Gerd"?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 11:45:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gerd = Gerhard Schroeder

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 11:46:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah.

Gerd being a female name in swedish, I failed to see that it could be a shorter form of Gerhard in German.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 05:46:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
GERD also means Gastro-Esophagal Reflux Disorder...

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 06:24:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gastroesophageal reflux disease - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Typical GERD symptoms include cough, hoarseness, voice changes, chronic ear ache, burning chest pains, nausea or sinusitis.

Did these sympthoms manifest themselves in the german population during the Gerd-years?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 06:49:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where'd you got that, Martin?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 12:11:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know any more, it was used by several newspapers.  It seems the term was invented by aides of Schroeder, when he was still chancellor, but the more widespread use seem to have occured only more recently - it is more relevant now, as some in the SPD want to follow the course Schroeder has started, and others want a significant change away from things like the agenda 2010.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 02:24:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Apparently, they created a website. I missed this, and was wondering about the English - didn't realise it's Neudeutsch...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 02:29:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Once I should write a diary about Neudeutsch, and my distaste for it as a non-native-speaker.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 02:30:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Was there so far a comment or diary on the ARD-Roth/Putin "censorship scandal"?

No, and I missed that. The theme is yours :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 12:18:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the germans still look so far to the left on economic and cultural issues that I still wonder..

Join the spaniards... please!!! we can do an army :)

Great analysis... as always dodo

A pleasure.

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Sep 8th, 2008 at 05:34:05 PM EST


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