Low polls, state election claps, government crisis: Chancellor Olaf Scholz would have reason to keep his tone quiet at the federal party conference of his SPD. But Germany’s head of government presents himself as extremely self-confident – and his course is supported by the vast majority of his comrades.
No, Chancellor Olaf Scholz will not take a beating at this SPD federal party conference. The approximately 600 delegates in the Berlin exhibition center made this clear before his speech began on Saturday morning. It rains a standing ovation for the head of government for a minute, even before he can say a single word to his comrades. This is followed by a speech that even internal party critics consider to be strong. Saskia Esken, face of the party left in the dual leadership with Lars Klingbeil, then attests: “You have warmed our hearts.”
The fact that Scholz received sharp criticism from some young socialists in the subsequent discussion was a gift. After two years in office and in the midst of the severe budget crisis, the Chancellor knows that the party is united and behind him. “We have rarely managed that so well,” says Scholz, referring to previous federal governments with SPD participation and the current cohesion between cabinet members, parliamentary group and party. “Especially the many who would like to report on us and should do so” must now realize that this unity will remain even after the SPD federal party conference, Scholz states with satisfaction.
SPD calls for suspension of the debt brake in 2024
In fact: Although the SPD is not even half as strong as the CDU and CSU in the polls, is even far behind the AfD and has conceded painful state elections, there is no visible unrest: Esken and Klingbeil will be on Friday, at the start of the three-day party conference, confirmed in office with over 80 percent of the vote each time. Secretary General Kevin Kühnert even received 93 percent of the votes. Federal Ministers Klara Geywitz and Hubertus Heil were also confirmed as party vice-presidents with strong results.
Scholz therefore takes the podium the following day with some certainty that the arena will be favorable to him. He also no longer looks as tired as he did on Friday, when he still seemed very bleary-eyed from the late meetings with Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck and Federal Minister of Finance Christian Lindner to resolve the budget crisis. “We are not faced with an unsolvable task,” says Scholz about the eagerly awaited sub-point of his speech called Budget 2024. Previously, he once again spoke about the government’s successes in containing Russian aggression and the energy price crisis and assured Ukraine of continued support .
But Germany must still be able to provide this support in the future, as well as invest in restructuring the economy and in climate protection measures, says Scholz. He needs money, because he also makes one thing clear – to warm the hearts of social democrats: “In such a situation there will be no dismantling of the welfare state in Germany.” The only thing left is to suspend the debt brake again next year, something the FDP with Lindner at the helm has so far rejected. The SPD will adopt a paper later in the day that will also call for this suspension, citing the costs of the Ukraine war. The so-called initiative motion was not put on the agenda at short notice against the wishes of the SPD Chancellor.
When will there be an agreement on the budget?
Is it impressive to Lindner that his negotiating partners from the SPD and the Greens have successful party congresses and their parties’ agreement to suspend the debt brake, while parts of his own party are calling for the FDP to leave the traffic lights? An agreement should be reached by Tuesday, which is what SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich is also calling for at the party conference: He wants to submit a draft to adjust the budget to the budget committee at least before Christmas. Scholz did not set a deadline for himself or his coalition partners in his speech.
“I really didn’t need some of what happened there,” says Scholz about the numerous conflicts in his traffic light coalition. The audience acknowledges this with knowing laughter. In other countries there are also arguments in the government, but self-absorbed Germans just don’t see it, says Scholz. In his speech, Scholz does not offer self-criticism or other gestures of humility regarding the difficult situation of the SPD and the government it leads. “Sorry, not sorry,” is what people often say on social media when someone sees no reason to apologize. “Scholz, not sorry,” is one message from the Chancellor’s speech.
The other message that audibly caught the attention of the party conference delegates in view of the AfD’s electoral successes: The SPD, with its anti-fascist legacy, is once again faced with a task of historical dimensions. Scholz points to the rise of right-wing populists in Germany, Europe and the USA and calls for people to be given reasons for “optimism” and “confidence” as well as “perspectives”. These vocabulary form the common thread in Scholz’s speech. “We are here for you,” should be the SPD’s message.
Jusos attack Scholz hard
In his speech, the newly elected chairman of the SPD’s Jusos party cast doubts that the SPD is actually there for the people. People are queuing in front of the food banks, which is a “show of poverty for the social democracy,” says Philipp Türmer. He accuses the Chancellor of weak leadership and a lack of empathy. Other of the numerous Jusos represented – they make up around one in five delegates in Berlin – are also harshly criticizing Scholz: “Olaf Scholz is also partly responsible for the bad mood” in the country and “for the SPD’s poor poll numbers,” says Mareike Engel, Juso state chairwoman in Saxony.
Türmer’s speech received only weak applause, Engel’s was even met with boos. Criticism of the Chancellor is most likely to be received when it refers to the Federal Government’s course on asylum law. “That is not the wording of the SPD,” says delegate Stella Kirgiane-Efremidou about Scholz’s statement in “Spiegel” when he said: “We finally have to deport on a large scale those who have no right to stay in Germany .” But she also means the formulation used by many SPD politicians about “irregular migration” that needs to be stopped. In practice, asylum and protection seekers from most countries cannot legally enter Germany.
The topic is likely to come up again on Saturday evening during a program debate. Scholz will be able to listen to it if he likes. Negotiations on the budget crisis will not continue until Sunday evening.