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The Social Democratic Party (SPD) declined Monday to open proceedings against its former president and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, despite pressure from the formation of Olaf Scholz to exclude from its ranks the “friend” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Schröder “has not damaged the party nor has he violated its statutes”, concluded the SPD arbitration commission in Hannover (center), the district for which he is affiliated and from where he started his career to the Chancellery, in 1998.
In doing so, it rejected the complaint filed by 17 regional associations. They were seeking the opening of proceedings against him and his eventual expulsion because of his links to Putin and Kremlin-controlled corporations.
The decision is the first pronouncement of an SPD arbitration body, against which the plaintiffs can appeal in the coming weeks.
The initiatives against Schröder materialized after the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The former Chancellor, 78 years old, came under criticism, including from the co-chair of the SPD, Saskia Esken, who “invited” him to leave the militancy.
The Social Democrat politician has “regretted” in successive statements the war in Ukraine without condemning Russia, has defended his relationship with Putin and has even criticized the line of the current German government towards Moscow.
Today’s decision closed the first chapter of what could have turned into a long expulsion process, with little prospect of success and a high probability of generating an internal division in the SPD.
The expulsion of a militant must overcome many obstacles, as was demonstrated with the former Finance Minister of the city-state of Berlin and best-selling author Thilo Sarrazin, whom the SPD took eleven years to exclude from its ranks.
Schröder was already a controversial chancellor as the driving force behind the Agenda 2010 reform program, for his detractors a betrayal of the principles of social democracy. But he is part of the history of the SPD, which he chaired between 1999 and 2004, and the third Social Democratic Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), after Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, between 1998 and 2005.
The revolving door of 2005
The crucial issue for the success of the lawsuit was to establish that Schröder had caused damage to the party or violated its statutes. The criticism was directed against the political and personal links between Schröder and Putin.
As German chancellor, he gave the Russian president the status of political ally and friend, ties that were forged during his seven years at the helm of the European economic power. Its most visible outcome was the construction of the German-Russian Nord Stream gas pipeline, agreed between Berlin and Moscow in 2005, shortly before he was ousted from the Chancellorship by the conservative Angela Merkel.
A few months after that defeat, he was already holding positions on boards of directors related to the pipeline. This alleged “revolving door” was already a complex issue for the SPD at the time and has now been aggravated in the wake of the war in Ukraine, both because of the conflict of interests and because Nord Stream is the key to Germany’s high energy dependence on Russia.
Amid heavy pressure, Schröder resigned in May from his positions in the Russian oil consortium Rosneft, whose board he had chaired since 2017, and from his candidacy to join that of Gazprom.
The former chancellor, however, defends his ties with Putin, with whom he has met in Moscow on at least two occasions in recent months, allegedly to mediate.
In a recent interview with a German media, Schröder reaffirmed his conviction that he has nothing to regret.