Germany’s Social Democrats fail again to expel ex-chancellor over Putin ties

Members of Germany's ruling Social Democrats (SPD) have failed in a last-ditch bid to expel former chancellor Gerhard Schröder over his close ties to Russia, the party said on Thursday.

Former chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), at a hearing of the Bundestag's Economics Committee on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project in 2020.
Former chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), at a hearing of the Bundestag's Economics Committee on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

The SPD’s Hanover branch has rejected an appeal by several other local party chapters against a decision last year to allow Schröder to remain in the party.

The appeals commission upheld a ruling in August by the Hanover chapter that Schröder, whose party membership falls under its umbrella, was “not guilty of a violation of the party rules, as no violation can be proven against him”.

Schröder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has refused to turn his back on Russian President Vladimir Putin despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

His stance has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The party executive on Thursday said it had “taken note” of the decision in Hanover.

READ ALSO: Germany’s SPD moves to expel Gerhard Schröder

“This legal decision does not change the fact that Gerhard Schröder is politically isolated in the SPD with his positions on Russia,” it said.

In an interview with Stern magazine, Schröder himself said he was “not surprised” by the decision, calling it “legally solid” and “politically consistent”.

The SPD branches seeking Schröder’s expulsion could in theory still appeal to the party’s national arbitration commission.

However, it is considered unlikely that another appeal will be allowed after the two decisions in Schröder’s favour.

Schröder was widely criticised after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for refusing to condemn Moscow as well as for lding a number of lucrative posts at Russian energy giants.

It was only after much public pressure that he gave up his seat on the board of Russian energy group Rosneft last year.

Germany has removed some of the perks Schröder 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

The 78-year-old, who was the immediate predecessor to Angela Merkel, met with Putin in Moscow last July.

In an interview after the visit, he claimed Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war – comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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German far-right politician charged over Nazi slogan

German prosecutors charged a prominent member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Monday with using a banned Nazi slogan in an election campaign.

German far-right politician charged over Nazi slogan

Björn Höcke, the party’s regional leader in Thuringia, allegedly used the motto of the Nazi’s Stormtroopers SA paramilitary wing, “Everything for Germany”, the Halle prosecutor’s office said.

Höcke, a former history teacher, uttered the phrase in full knowledge of its “origin and meaning” in front of 250 people at a campaign event in 2021, according to prosecutors.

The AfD won 10 percent of the vote in the general election that year. Höcke is charged with “the public use of a symbol of a former National Socialist organisation”.

READ ALSO: Far-right AfD at new high as climate issues split Germany

The far-right politician “questioned the criminal relevance of his remark” through his lawyer, prosecutors said.

The AfD is currently level in the polls with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats as discontent with the government grows.

It tops polls in a number of Germany’s eastern states, including Thuringia, though it trails the conservative opposition CDU-CSU alliance nationally.

In 2015 Höcke founded the “Flügel”, a radical faction within the AfD,which was placed under formal surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

READ ALSO: Germany surveils far-right Flügel as fight against extremism stepped up

The organisation subsequently disbanded but the far-right firebrand, whose statements on Germany’s Nazi past have sparked outrage, remains influential within the party.

Höcke has called Berlin’s Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame” and urged a “180-degree shift” in the country’s culture of remembrance.

“This charge against Björn Höcke is a correct and, in my view, long-overdue step,” said Holocaust survivor and Munich Jewish community leader Charlotte Knobloch on Twitter.