What had been causing speculation for days is now official: Nancy Faeser wants to become the SPD's top candidate for the Hessian state elections on October 8, while remaining Federal Minister of the Interior in Berlin - and only moving to Wiesbaden if she becomes Prime Minister.
"Just as I am the first woman to hold the position of Federal Minister of the Interior, I would like to be the first woman to head the Hessian state government," said the 52-year-old on Thursday evening in the Willy-Brandt-Haus. "I compete to win." She became clearer in an interview with the "Spiegel", which had appeared shortly before: "I was already the leader of the opposition," said Faeser. "If the voters decide otherwise, I will continue to fulfill my responsibility as Federal Minister of the Interior."
This Friday, she is to be officially named the top candidate at the SPD's traditional "Hesse Summit". The comrades there should be relieved that after months of speculation about their intentions, Faeser is finally making a clean sweep. The SPD state chairman is considered the only promising candidate, especially since the competition has long since named their front runners. The Hessian Social Democrats are starting the election campaign with a lot of delay.
The Hesse SPD is obviously also building on the federal minister's bonus in office, because only a few campaign appearances are planned. "Now is not the time to campaign," said Faeser, referring to the war in Ukraine. However, this fact is probably also due to her future dual role of leading a state election campaign from now on, while at the same time she runs a ministry with around 85,000 employees and 19 authorities. It should be a feat.
Of course, there is no lack of tasks in Faeser's ministry. It is responsible for internal security, the fight against cybercrime, civil and constitutional protection, and migration. Faeser leads an authority that is always in demand - whether in the fight against "Reich citizens" or the accommodation of refugees. To name just a few current debates. In addition, the SPD in Hesse will have to stretch to cross the finish line as the winner: In the last "hr-Hessentrend" the party was five percentage points behind the CDU and level with the Greens - the survey, however, dates from October last year.
Despite everything, Faeser was convinced that the state balancing act is possible. She had "taken responsibility for a very difficult office in very difficult times," she told the "Spiegel", and this responsibility requires "that I fulfill my tasks as clearly and seriously as before". Doubts about this are raised even from the ranks of the traffic light coalition: "In times like this, you can't dance at two political weddings at the same time," said the Greens parliamentary group Vice President Konstantin von Notz, the "months-long double burden" that is now emerging should not be at the expense of anything the country's internal security.
For her actions, which were also sharply criticized by the opposition, Faeser obtained the "full backing" of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). He left no doubt about that by describing Faeser as "a highly professional, great minister" during a question and answer session with citizens in Marburg in Hesse, who will do "great work" and fulfill her duties in the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
This means that the risk for Faeser of falling into the "Röttgen trap" has fallen again. The name Norbert Röttgen has repeatedly been associated with the Federal Minister of the Interior in recent days, although on closer inspection the cases have little in common. Faeser himself also rejected parallels.
Former Federal Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) lost the 2012 state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia. At the time, the top candidate of the CDU did not want to decide whether, in the event of defeat, he would move to Düsseldorf as opposition leader or remain in Berlin as a minister. After a historic electoral defeat, he opted for Berlin, but was thrown out of the cabinet shortly afterwards by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU).
Faeser, on the other hand, has now disclosed her intentions. Röttgen did not have the option to fall back either, who – another difference – had far less experience in state politics. Faeser has been active in local and state politics since 1996, sat in the Wiesbaden state parliament for 18 years, became chairwoman of the Hessian SPD in 2019 and was the leader of the parliamentary group for around two years until Scholz made her the first woman to head the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Berlin in December 2021 .
But what if Faeser wins? Scholz obviously considers the minister indispensable, otherwise he would hardly have approved the dual role. In the event of an election victory, however, he would have to reshuffle his cabinet again and fill the interior ministry with new staff. For the change in the Federal Ministry of Defense, he had already given up gender parity by appointing Boris Pistorius as the successor to Christine Lambrecht (both SPD). Should Faeser lose the state election, this question would not arise. A defeat would possibly damage her as Federal Minister of the Interior. The candidacy is not without risks – not even for the chancellor.
Sources: "Hessenschau", "Spiegel", "t-online", Deutschlandfunk