SPD Party Conference: New Summit, New Self-Confidence

The SPD is hard to recognize at Saturday’s Federalist Party convention. Many of the speaking requests are the same. “With your back to the wall,” Lars Klingbeil said in his speech to run for party president. “There were times when the downfall of the SPD seemed inevitable,” recalls old and new co-chair Saskia Eskin. Now, 16 years later, the party is again appointing the chancellor. In fact, no one thought it was possible until a few weeks ago.

It was two years ago when 600 or so delegates confirmed the results of a member poll on the party leadership and voted for the duo of Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter Borgens. At that time the split in the Social Democratic Party was a real danger, which made the grand alliance with the Union up for discussion. In opinion polls, the party was at 13 percent and Olaf Scholz, who lost to the presidency, was suspected of being on the sidelines.

A new unit in the Social Democratic Party

It is the little excerpt from a speech by a woman who is not even one of the main heroes of the day that sums up the good mood in the SPD. There’s Clara Jewetz, the new Federal Minister for Construction, at the stand. Two years ago Goetz ran with Schultz against Esken and Walter Burgess. Now, at the beginning of her candidacy letter for a position, she speaks directly to Esken: “We started as competitors two years ago. Now, two years later, you can say that we are guys and that I am 100 percent behind you.”

In 2019, as threatening as the situation seemed at the time, the cornerstones of success may have been laid. The left wing, who has long complained about the sidelines of the politics of Gerhard Schroeder’s agenda, has shared through personal details of Esken, Walter Burgess, and last but not least, former Joseu boss Kevin Kohnert. It was decided to beat Hartz IV and create a sense of community that hadn’t existed for decades. From this point on the reconciliation of the SPD was possible.

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Klingbeil succeeds Walter Burgess

After winning the election in September, Norbert Walter Borgens stated that he would not be available for a second term and that he would like to pave the way for young people to reach the top. Lars Klingbeil, general secretary and something like campaign engineer, quickly made it clear that he wanted to run. In 2019 he felt ready, but could not find a synonymous partner.

Klingbeil is respected and connected in large parts of the party. It belongs to Seeheimer Kreis, the conservative wing of the Social Democratic Party. The soldier’s son campaigns for a strong Bundeswehr army and has long been in favor of arming drones, for example. However, Jusos also sympathizes with the 43-year-old. About two years ago, he would talk almost every Monday evening with his friend Kevin Kohnert on “Insta Live” about all kinds of politics, society and sports.

Little Obama at the party convention

In his nomination speech, Klingbeil spoke of his difficult path as Secretary-General. In the past four years, he has organized six caucuses, seen eight presidents, and now has helped Olaf Schultz to the chancellorship. Huge success, but Klingbeil wants more. “We’ve accomplished a lot,” he says, “but there’s still a lot to be done.” He firmly believes that a “social democratic decade” is now emerging.

Klingbeil, a transatlantic enthusiast, used a rhetorical device from Barack Obama’s famous speech at the 2004 Democratic convention. He said at the time that there were neither blue nor red states, only the United States of America. Accordingly, Klingbeil says: There is no such thing as an SPD for the Seeheimers or the Left Party, not the SPD, which is in government and who are not: “Dear people, we are SPD.”

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The other president, Saskia Esken, said in her speech that one could be proud of “Old Aunt SPD”. She also spoke of state elections next spring: in Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, the Social Democrats have the opportunity to take back three state chancellors from the CDU.

Esken, Klingbeil and Kühnert . were elected

Klingbeil scored a very good result in the election with 86.3 percent. Esken did slightly better than in their first election, but two years later some Social Democrats were still stifling the Bundestag from Baden-Württemberg. 76.7 percent voted in favour.

In the position of general secretary follows former Juso chief Kühnert, who tried to paint an overly self-confident portrait of the party during his candidacy speech. It is the “heart and head”, the parliamentary group and the government in turn the “hands” that extend. Koehnert promised to communicate publicly in his new role and not isolate himself at party headquarters.

The 32-year-old was less rebellious in his rhetoric than at previous party conventions. In 2019, delegates got up from their seats when he used a red sock as an illustration. Kohnert received 77.8% of the vote this time. Compared with the results of previous secretaries, a respectable result.

The position of Deputy Chairman of the Social Democratic Party, which became vacant with the transition of Konnert to the post of General Secretary, will be assumed by Thomas Kochati, President of the North Rhine-Westphalian State Social Democratic Party. Previous incumbents – Federal Labor Secretary Hubertus Hill, new Federal Construction Minister Clara Jewetz as well as Ank Rellinger and Serpil Mediatly – were elected additional party deputies.

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Schulz flirts with the soul of the party friends

What will be decisive in the coming years is how the relationship between the party and the chancellor, i.e. on his behalf and Olaf Schultz, will evolve. Quite a few, including those in SPD, see the potential for detonation here.

The newly elected chancellor seems to have foreseen that. At about 5 p.m. — two hours later than scheduled — Schulze came to the podium. He speaks for 20 minutes, firmly and resolutely, pleading with fellow party members that he counts on their approval.

Schultz promises progress the Traffic Light Coalition is committed to. At the end of his speech he again tried to caress the spirit of the party friends: “They will be good years for the Federal Republic of Germany, but also for our party.” Then he puts on Schulze’s famous mischievous smile. The guys seem to like it.

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