From SPD idol to pariah: Gerhard Schröder's expulsion from the party is now being negotiated

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been criticized for "understanding Russia".

From SPD idol to pariah: Gerhard Schröder's expulsion from the party is now being negotiated

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been criticized for "understanding Russia". After numerous exit demands from its own ranks, the SPD sub-district of Hanover is now beginning negotiations on a party expulsion. However, the chances of success are likely to be low.

For many years, Gerhard Schröder was the face of the SPD, a guarantee of success and vote-catcher - first as Prime Minister in Lower Saxony, then as Federal Chancellor. His no to the Iraq war may have brought him sympathy, but his yes to Hartz IV also brought him a lot of criticism. In retrospect, however, it is the policy of the "Russia understander" that shapes the image of Schröder's chancellorship. So much so that many comrades now want to get rid of Schröder. Even party leader Saskia Esken has asked him to leave. The arbitration commission of the SPD sub-district of the Hanover region is now negotiating a possible party expulsion. How could it come to this?

Schröder's close ties to Vladimir Putin date back to a time when Russia's president was still being celebrated with standing ovations in the Bundestag. "It was a different time, a time of hope that after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, something would grow together," Schröder's ex-wife, Doris Schröder-Köpf, recalled in March after Russia's attack on Ukraine . "That has nothing to do with today, today it's a different world, unfortunately."

In the old world, in the year 2000, Schröder and Putin announce a restart of German-Russian relations. It is a historic step, a sign of reconciliation, and even then there was a central topic: gas. In the presence of the top politicians, contracts for several billion-dollar projects of the German economy are signed with the Russian energy company Gazprom.

Less than two weeks before the federal elections in 2005, Schröder and Putin are also there when a consortium of large energy companies agrees to build a gas pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea - the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which is currently closed for maintenance. Germany secures its energy supply in partnership with Russia for decades, Schröder explained at the time.

Shortly afterwards he lost the election, handed over the chancellorship to Angela Merkel in November - and in December he was already being discussed for a position with Gazprom, which he accepted in March 2006. He becomes chairman of the shareholders' committee at the operator of the new Baltic Sea pipeline, Nord Stream AG.

Allegations of corruption and nepotism are immediately raised. But Schröder stuck to the cooperation, and did so for years. This is followed by engagements as Chairman of the Board of Directors at Nord Stream 2 (appointed in 2016), as a member of the Supervisory Board of the Russian oil company Rosneft (2017-2022) and as a member of the Supervisory Board of the British-Russian oil company TNK-BP (2009-2011), which now belongs to Rosneft. Schröder's proximity to the corporations is repeatedly criticized. However, both the SPD and Chancellor Merkel were very willing to rely on Russian gas at the time.

In 2014, after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, Schröder found that Putin was violating international law. Nevertheless, he does not want to condemn Putin, who has "fears of encirclement". He rejects an intermediary role. He will keep the post at Nord Stream. Even after Russia's attack on all of Ukraine in February 2022, it would be months before Schröder pulled out of Rosneft. The former chancellor has already rid himself of his office and his staff after a Bundestag resolution, his attempt at mediation in Moscow, without consultation with the federal government, failed. He also rejects a position on the board of directors of Gazprom.

But his statements on the Ukraine war remain comparatively pro-Russian. Schröder says it is the "responsibility of the Russian government" to end the war. However, the ties to Russia should not be completely severed. Schröder is still following this line: Just a few days ago, the 78-year-old told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that he wanted to keep in touch with Putin and did not believe in a military solution in Ukraine. "The war can only be ended through diplomatic negotiations," Schröder is quoted as saying, garnished with some criticism of Ukraine.

Many in the SPD are deeply disappointed by this, disappointed by their pithy but successful idol, who once led them from election victory to election victory. "Sad" - this word is heard more often in the party when it comes to how Schröder is behaving today. A total of 17 formal applications for exclusion from the party bear witness to this disappointment, as well as others that did not meet the requirements.

Thomas Kutschaty, deputy federal chairman of the SPD, also sees the former chancellor's days in the party as numbered. Gerhard Schröder himself decided that his financial and personal dependence on Putin was more important to him than his commitment to the SPD or the legacy of his chancellorship, Kutschaty told the Düsseldorf Rheinische Post. "An ex-Chancellor who has reason to suspect that he can be bought by a warmonger harms himself, his party and our democracy."

A decision on a party penalty - a complaint or more - is not expected to be made this Thursday. The Arbitration Commission intends to comment on this in the course of the next three weeks. From a legal point of view, however, it can be heard behind closed doors that the expulsion of the former chancellor from the SPD is extremely unlikely.

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