Former German minister quits SPD after reprimand
Wolfgang Clement ended 38 years with the center-left party that co-rules in Berlin after calling the rebuke "inappropriate and wrong."
Berlin -- A former state premier who was a prominent minister at federal level quit Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) on Tuesday after receiving a reprimand over critical remarks that "breached party solidarity."
Wolfgang Clement ended 38 years of membership in the center-left party that co-rules in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives after calling the rebuke "inappropriate and wrong."
His resignation comes at a bad time for the SPD, where squabbling between the party's left and right wings has led to an erosion of voter support.
The outspoken former minister had outraged many within the party by publicly questioning the energy policies of the SPD leader in the state of Hesse, Andrea Ypsilanti, just days before a closely fought election in January.
Ypsilanti narrowly lost to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), leading to criticism that Clement's remarks had cost her victory.
"It's a pity that he does not want to remain in the party any longer," said SPD chairman Franz Muentefering. "There would have been room for him."
Clement, who as economics and labor minister under former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schroeder helped pushed through unpopular pro-market reforms, had apologized for the strong emotions his comments had raised but stood by what he said.
This was too much for SPD in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which instituted measures to expel him for breaching party solidarity.
On Monday, a commission of mediators called in to resolve the dispute ruled against expulsion and issued an admonishment instead. This failed to satisfy Clement, who said the party's action violated the principle of freedom of expression.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, like Clement a supporter of Schroeder's pro-market reforms, said he was disappointed at Clement's decision.
But there was still room in the SPD "for people who like to speak their minds," said Steinmeier, who was picked two months ago to challenger Merkel for the chancellorship in elections next autumn.
Clement, a former premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and "super minister" in the Schroeder cabinet in the years 2002-05, had always insisted he had not sought to undermine the Hesse SPD.
But he insisted Germany could not renounce nuclear and coal-fired power stations, as called for by Ypsilanti.
Clement left politics when Schroeder lost office at the end of 2005, taking a senior post with power generation company RWE. He is closely associated with Schroeder's Agenda 2010 program, which was never popular with the SPD's leftwing.
Recent opinion polls show SPD voter support slipping to 25 percent, against 39 percent for the Christian Democrats, 11 percent for the Free Democrats (FDP) and 10 percent each for the Left Party and Greens.
If the trend continues, the SPD could be ousted from power in September's elections if Merkel's party wins enough votes to form a parliamentary majority with the FDP, its preferred coalition partner.