The leader of the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), Andrea Nahles, resigned under pressure on Sunday after the poor result of her party in the EU elections.
The SPD scored 15.8% of the popular vote, an 11.4-percentage-point drop from 2014’s EU elections, finishing behind its coalition partners, the Chancellor Angela Merkel-led CDU/CSU (28.9%), and the Greens (20.5%). It’s Social Democrats’ worst-ever result in a nationwide poll, plunging Germany’s oldest political party into an identity crisis.
Politicians, scholars and the media are at work analyzing what the SPD’s misfortune means for the political landscape of the country. The only member of the federal parliament (Bundestag) of African origin, Karamba Diaby, has now weighed in on the debate. The Senegalese-born member of the SPD is of the view that the party had “missed some profound developments in society, not only in the last 15, but for at least 30 years”.
“Instead of occupying the future, social democracy has been based on neo-liberalism,” the MP said on his Facebook page. He opined that through the SPD’s support for policies such as privatization and deregulation, wealth had become concentrated in the hands of fewer people in the country. “No wonder, today, 10 percent of society owns 55 percent of the total [wealth].”
“This has to change again. We have to clarify in an orderly procedure what the SPD stands for” and with which policies it wants achieve its goals.
Analysts believe that the root of the SPD’s crisis goes back to the tenure of the last SPD chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, who governed Germany from 1998 until 2005. The party, which is traditionally a supporter of policies that protect workers, promotes public services and guarantees fair living standards, adopted pro-market positions, such as the controversial welfare reform known as Hartz IV.
The party’s identity became more compounded when it joined Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative government in 2005 as junior partners in a grand coalition. The SPD continued its participation in the coalition after losing even more voters’ share in 2013 and 2017.
As coalition governments demand compromise, the party supported austerity measures promoted by the CDU/CSU, which are unpopular with workers while it has been unable to force through its signature issues, such as rent control and higher pension benefits.
The SPD, which secured 40.9% of the vote in 1998, is now polling at just 12%, according to the latest Forsa Institute poll.
Meanwhile, Malu Dreyer – premier of Rhineland Palatinate, Manuela Schwesig – premier of Mecklenburg-Vorpommernand, and Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel have provisionally taken over the SPD leadership. The party will decide on further actions including possibly electing a new leadership on 24 June.