The SPD received the most remarkable praise for the stimulus package from its own ranks. It was the Jusos from North Rhine-Westphalia who, soon after the package was presented, let them know: “We can be proud of this. We are proud of this.”
There are brand new tones that the party’s youngsters are saying when they talk about the party leadership. Not too long ago, when the SPD was still led by Andrea Nahles and after its failure temporarily by three acting chiefs, what they had achieved was never enough. As soon as the negotiators came back from the rounds, they could hear allegations.
This time, however, some things are different. It begins with two candidates who had the support of the Jusos came to the fore in December: they had made Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans their candidates. Juso boss Kevin Kühnert had organized the backing. In December he moved in with the newcomers to the executive floor of the Willy Brandt House. Kühnert, who since the reissue of the grand coalition pushed the incumbent party leadership first as an opponent, later as a critic, is now part of the party establishment as SPD vice. It has become remarkably quiet about himself. If you like, it has brought peace to the party. There are no attacks from within the ranks.
In an equally remarkable way, former enemies are now rearranging themselves at the top: Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whom Kühnert absolutely wanted to keep away from the party leadership in autumn – this was the main motivation for him to support Esken and Walter-Borjans – no longer applies as the enemy, on the contrary. “There is a recognizable social democratic coloring in coping with the crisis. We are pulling in the same direction and, as Vice Chancellor, Olaf Scholz logically embodies this policy significantly” – said Kühnert before the economic stimulus package that triggered the jusos euphoria. Suddenly the unimaginable becomes conceivable – even the Jusos under Kevin Kühnert could probably arrange themselves with Scholz as candidates for chancellor. He has again gained reputation.
Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans are also emerging from the negotiations on the economic stimulus package. Since taking office, they had had to vacate some of their previous positions. At least they had promised to get out of the Groko. There was no longer any question of that. They wanted to raise the party to 30 percent in surveys within a year – they have long since stopped talking about it, and the party remains at 15 percent. The SPD did not need a candidate for chancellor, it was said that she was too weak. Here, too, they had to rethink. That cost credibility. When Esken announced at the start of negotiations for the economic stimulus package that there would be no purchase premium for cars with combustion engines with the SPD, it was rather doubted that the top would prevail. But she did.
Positions on the controversial purchase premium were carefully coordinated
Esken and Walter-Borjans are aware that they are still acting from a weak position. They had to learn first: As outsiders, they did not have the authority or the power to rule the SPD from the Willy-Brandt-Haus. They cannot advance without allies.
Their positions on the controversial purchase premium were carefully coordinated. Group leader Rolf Mützenich had also probed the mood among the MPs. There was no majority in the ranks of parliamentarians. It was clear to him, but also to the members of the government, that a concession to the auto industry at this point could damage the acceptance of the entire stimulus package. This is a lesson from the climate package, which failed due to the cautious requirements regarding the CO₂ price. Esken and Walter-Borjans had a lot of support on this point, so much that Stephan Weil, Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, could not do anything anymore.
Not too long ago, it might have been different. Because there would have been chances of becoming party leader. But he was one of those who didn’t want to when the opportunity presented itself. Now the influence of the procrastinators of the past is fading. Scholz, on the other hand, gives the team player. He had to do without his favorite project. He wanted to free poor municipalities from the debt burden. This does not happen because the Union would then certainly not have waived the purchase premium. So the deal was – each side has to give up a favorite project. Nevertheless: After the meeting, relief and satisfaction can be felt on almost all sides in the SPD. What has rarely happened in the party recently: It worked as a team.