Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (78) can remain in the SPD despite his close ties to Russia. The arbitration commission of the SPD district of Hanover today rejected all applications from the party for sanctions against Schröder.
Even in the second instance, this is legally equivalent to an acquittal. Politically, the party leadership declared Schröder months ago as isolated. This decision does not change anything.
Former chancellor is satisfied
Schröder himself was satisfied with the decision, which was first reported by "Spiegel". Stern magazine quoted him as saying that he was "not surprised" by the outcome of the appeals process. The decision was "legally sound and convincing as well as politically consistent".
The reasoning of the arbitration commission states that it "cannot be determined with sufficient certainty" that Schröder violated statutes, principles or the party order or was guilty of an dishonorable act. The Commission admits: "It is possible that top German politicians misjudged the dangers of dependence on Russian energy supplies over the past 25 years." But that also applies to other politicians from the SPD and other parties. "To accuse the opponent of such a misjudgment is going too far."
The Arbitration Commission also does not follow the argument of Schröder's opponents that the former chancellor publicly downplayed the war crimes in the Ukrainian Bucha. Rather, before the war began and in the first few weeks afterwards, Schröder tried "to use his connections to end the war."
Meeting with Putin in Moscow
In March and July 2022, Schröder met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Russia is interested in ending the war, he said afterwards.
The attitude of mediating in conflicts is quite common among "former politicians and especially among elder statesmen," writes the Arbitration Commission. An interesting choice of words, after all, SPD leader Saskia Esken said in April 2022: "Gerhard Schröder has only acted as a businessman for many years, and we should stop perceiving him as an elder statesman, as a former chancellor." When asked whether Schröder should leave the party, Esken said at the time: "He should."
The party organization procedure was initially initiated by 17 SPD branches. In the first instance, the SPD sub-district Region Hannover decided in the summer that Schröder had not violated the party order. In contrast, seven SPD branches appealed. The hearing took place in early December.
An exclusion of Schröder from the SPD was discussed in the proceedings. But milder penalties such as a reprimand would also have been possible.
Marco Mauer from the SPD department at Kollwitzplatz (Berlin-Pankow), one of the party branches that requested the appeal, reacted with disappointment at the decision. "The Arbitration Commission seems unwilling to fully clarify the matter and sanction Schröder's lack of cooperation," he said.
Because: Schröder is politically "completely isolated" in the SPD
Lower Saxony's Prime Minister Stephan Weil, on the other hand, differentiated between the legal and the political assessment. Legally, he thinks it is understandable that no breach of the party order by Schröder was found. Politically, however, Schröder was "completely isolated within the SPD with his statements on the war in Ukraine," said Weil. Baden-Württemberg's SPD head Andreas Stoch called on Schröder to leave the party voluntarily.
Meanwhile, from the party base in Hanover, it can be heard that public interest in the Schröder case is greater than that of the comrades themselves. There are other issues in the foreground than how to deal with the former chancellor. But it is also clear that when the proceedings began a good year ago, both attitudes - pro and contra Schröder - could be found in the SPD. And many members saw the chances of success of those who wanted to get rid of Schröder as slim.
Close friend of Putin
Schröder is considered a close friend of Putin and worked for Russian energy companies for years. With regard to Russia's attack on Ukraine, Schröder stated that it was Russia's responsibility to end the war. However, the ties to Russia should not be completely severed.
The SPD branches that had applied for the appeal could now apply for an appeal to the SPD Federal Arbitration Commission. However, it is considered rather unlikely that a further appeal would be allowed after the unanimous decisions of the first instances.
case will keep the SPD busy for a long time
The Schröder case will probably keep the SPD busy for a long time. Other parties keep trying to bring the Social Democrats closer to Russia as a whole - there is talk of a "Moscow connection" around Schröder. In an initial reaction to the new SPD decision, CDU leader Friedrich Merz held back criticism. "I regret that he went down such a path," the opposition leader told the editorial network Germany (RND) about Schröder.
By the party conference in December, the SPD wants to redefine its foreign policy baselines and thus also its attitude towards Russia. It is the first SPD party conference since Russia attacked Ukraine and since the party leadership quarreled with Schröder. Normally, ex-chairmen are also invited to party conferences. However, it is difficult to imagine that Schröder will be there this time.