German Social Democrats shake up leadership, focus on govt

Angela Merkel

An attempt to end bitter infighting among the German Social Democrats (SPD) with an immediate transfer of the leadership position from Martin Schulz to the current SPD parliamentary faction leader Andrea Nahles has met with resistance on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Schulz said he hoped his decision to resign would result in party members focusing on the coalition treaty rather than personnel issues.

Under the prevailing statues of the SPD, the party's parliamentary vice-presidents are designated to take charge in the vacant period between the departure of an old and inauguration of a new party leader. "I am surprised that Andrea Nahles wants to take over the leadership immediately, if only in the interim", Harald Baumann-Hasske, Chairman of the Working Group Social Democratic Lawyers, told the newspaper "Welt".

The coalition deal signed with Merkel's conservatives could be in jeopardy as the battle for the SPD leadership continues to play out.

Nahles is expected to replace Schulz after the latter was forced to give up his plans to become foreign minister in a newly formed coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) after he came under heavy internal pressure last Friday.

Schulz, a former European Parliament president, took over as SPD leader from Gabriel past year, raising hopes within the party he could stand a better chance against Merkel in the September election.

Many party members were angered that Schulz would consider becoming foreign minister after he previously stated he would not serve in a government under Angela Merkel.

Under a grand coalition agreement, Olaf Scholz, the popular mayor of Hamburg, is set to take on the powerful role of finance minister.

Schulz said last week he would quit to allow the party to regroup and he recommended Nahles as leader.

Deeply divided over the coalition deal and the division of ministerial posts, and facing a slump in opinion polls, SPD leaders are trying to convince 464,000 party members to back the deal in a ballot on which Merkel's fourth term hangs.

Under Schulz, a former European Parliament president who became SPD leader just over a year ago, the party garnered 20.5 percent in September's election, its worst result in the post-war era.

In a cartoon on Tuesday, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily showed Nahles with a whip riding an SPD snail.

Merkel annoyed members of her Christian Democrats (CDU) by agreeing in the coalition talks to cede the finance ministry to the SPD.

They argue that the SPD needs to go into opposition to rebuild its identity and reconnect with voters, because at the moment too little divides Germany's two largest parties.

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