Germany’s Social Democrats move to expel Gerhard Schröder over Putin ties

Germany's ruling Social Democrats (SPD) launched proceedings Thursday that could see former chancellor Gerhard Schröder expelled from the party over his close ties to Vladimir Putin and Russian energy companies.

Gerhard Schröder Olaf Scholz
Gerhard Schröder takes part in an event at the launch of Olaf Scholz's biography, "The Way to Power" in December 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The SPD’s Hanover branch opened a hearing to discuss more than a dozen motions from local and regional chapters against Schröder’s ongoing membership, with a decision expected in three weeks.

Schröder has “decided that his financial and personal dependence on Putin is more important than his commitment to the SPD or the legacy of his chancellorship,” senior party member Thomas Kutschaty told the Rheinische Post daily.

Schröder, German chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as unjustified but has refused to turn his back on his friend in the Kremlin, becoming an embarrassment to the SPD.

He has also been widely criticised for holding a number of lucrative posts at Russian energy giants, and it was only after much public pressure that Schröder in May gave up his seat on the board of Russian energy group Rosneft.

He later also announced he would not be joining Gazprom’s supervisory board as initially planned.

Germany’s parliament in May removed some of the perks Schroeder was entitled to as an elder statesman, stripping him of an office and staff.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over links to Russia

Schröder, 78, has remained defiant and is expected to fight efforts to kick him out of the SPD.

“I will not give up my opportunities for dialogue with President Putin,” Schroeder recently told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

Legal experts say there are high hurdles for expelling members from the party, and Schroeder will be able to appeal any decision against him.

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Germany has avoided ‘worst-case’ energy scenario

Germany has so far avoided the "worst-case scenario" of an economic meltdown after being cut off from Russian gas, and is optimistic its stocks will last through next winter, the economy minister said Thursday.

Germany has avoided 'worst-case' energy scenario

Russia, the biggest exporter of gas to the European Union before it invaded Ukraine, turned off the taps in September last year over crippling sanctions imposed against it over the war.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was heavily dependent on Russian gas, and scrambled to find alternative suppliers, such as Norway and the United States, paying a higher price for their gas.

“The worst-case scenario that threatened this summer has been avoided so far… a complete meltdown of the heart of European and German industry has been avoided,” climate and economy minister Robert Habeck said during a visit to Oslo.

He told a press conference that gas “reservoirs are well-filled, more than 90 percent, and prices are falling.”

“Of course, nothing is guaranteed… but this shows that determined, good, and intelligent political action leads to success.”

READ ALSO: 7 reasons to be optimistic about life in Germany in 2023

Habeck said that while gas prices could rise again, he had a “certain optimism” ahead of next winter, as gas stocks have been boosted and deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have ramped up.

Like much of Europe, Germany has scrambled to build infrastructure to import LNG, and inaugurated its first terminal in December.

Norway boosted its gas production by eight percent last year and has become Europe’s leading gas supplier since war broke out in Ukraine.

“Germany has rarely been more important to Norway than right now. And I think Norway has rarely been more important to Germany, as it is right now,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told the press conference.

On Thursday, the two countries agreed to boost cooperation in green sectors such as hydrogen, electric batteries, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy like offshore wind farms.

Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor and German utility firm RWE announced a joint hydrogen project aimed at helping Germany decarbonise its energy production.

The plan includes the construction of an unspecified number of plants – initially fuelled by Norwegian natural gas — to replace coal-fired power
plants which Berlin wants to close by 2030.

While natural gas emits less CO2 than coal, it will gradually be replaced by hydrogen as production capacity increases.

The “blue” hydrogen will be produced from natural gas at first, with more than 95 percent of the CO2 captured through the industrial process.

It will then be carbon-free “green” hydrogen, using energy from offshore wind farms that Equinor and RWE want to develop jointly off Germany and Norway.

The plan includes the construction of a pipeline to transport hydrogen between Norway and Germany whose feasibility is being studied.