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SPD set for new leader as main German parties look to promote youth | World news | World News


Andrea Nahles, 47, expected to lead centre-left party in coalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU

headshot of Andrea Nahles






Andrea Nahles poised to take over as as SPD leader after resignation of Martin Schulz.
Photograph: Simone Kuhlmey/Pacific Press/Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

Germany’s two largest parties are trying to improve the survival chances of the country’s next government by injecting their frontbenches with fresh blood before they formally enter a new “grand coalition”.

Outgoing Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who last Friday surprised many by abandoning his ambition to become foreign minister, is set to hand over the party leadership on Tuesday to 47-year-old Andrea Nahles – the second-youngest person and first-ever female head in the 155-year history of the German centre-left.

If Nahles, a former leader of the JuSos youth wing with a talent for powerful and at times brash political oratory, is installed at the helm of the SPD in a caretaker role, five out of six party groups in the German parliament will have female leaders.

Germany’s most prominent female politician, meanwhile, is herself under pressure to reshuffle her party’s ageing personnel in coming weeks. In a TV interview on Sunday evening Angela Merkel vowed to stay on as chancellor for the full four-year term and defended herself against criticism for conceding the influential finance ministry to the Social Democrats.

But Merkel also announced that she would confirm the names of new CDU ministers before a party summit on 26 February, and hinted that the provisional distribution of portfolios could be revised to pave a career path for her eventual successor.

“Of course the list will draw from party’s entire spectrum,” Merkel told public broadcaster ZDF in the interview. “That includes youth and experience. We don’t want to consider only the over-60s.”

Since reaching a coalition agreement with Schulz’s team last Wednesday, Merkel has faced increasingly vocal criticism from the ranks of a Christian Democratic Union previously famed for its message discipline.

Former deputy finance minister Jens Spahn, a leading figure on the rightwing of the CDU, who was not included in a leaked list of designated future ministers, told Austrian newspaper Die Presse am Sonntag that he knew “plenty of good people” who could take over when the Merkel era came to an end. “We don’t live in a monarchy where you can arrange your own successor,” the 37-year-old said. “When the time comes, candidates will have to assert themselves.”

CDU politician Roland Koch, a former premier for the state of Hesse, also appealed to Merkel to pave the way for a new generation of conservative politicians, naming Spahn and the more liberal-leaning Schleswig-Holstein state premier Daniel Günther as candidates.

In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Koch openly questioned the longevity of the next government: “I don’t see or hear anyone voicing the hope that this coalition deal formulates a future-facing political agenda. It expresses the commonalities of two partners without a joint agenda.”

Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats managed to reach a coalition agreement after the chancellor’s attempt to forge an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green party collapsed last December.

The coalition deal has yet to be approved by the SPD’s approximately 460,000 members, whose verdict will be announced on 4 March. After the Social Democrats’ worst result in the postwar era at last September’s national poll, many members believe that the party should reinvent itself in opposition rather than seek a new term in government as Merkel’s junior coalition partner.

There are also concerns that a renewed grand coalition could provide a further boost to the German far right, with rightwing populist party Alternative für Deutschland set to become the biggest opposition group in the next Bundestag.

Unlike Merkel’s party, senior figures in the SPD want to hold off any further debate about the next cabinet’s personnel until after their membership vote. “For now we want to convince the SPD’s members to vote in favour of accepting the coalition agreement,” said Hamburg’s mayor, Olaf Scholz, who has been mooted as a contender for the finance ministry post.

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