Matthias Platzeck elected leader of SPD
15 November 2005, KARLSRUHE, GERMANY - Eastern German Matthias Platzeck was Tuesday overwhelmingly elected chairman of outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) after a speech attacking "market radicals" and vowing to preserve the welfare state.
15 November 2005
KARLSRUHE, GERMANY - Eastern German Matthias Platzeck was Tuesday overwhelmingly elected chairman of outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) after a speech attacking "market radicals" and vowing to preserve the welfare state.
Platzeck received 512 votes at an SPD party congress with just two delegates voting against him and one abstaining.
The SPD on Monday voted in favour of a grand coalition with designated Christian Democratic (CDU/CSU) chancellor Angela Merkel who also hails from eastern Germany.
Both parties are due to elect Merkel in parliament on November 22.
While making vague comments about reforming Germany's creaking welfare system - and no concrete proposals - Platzeck slammed what he insisted was wrongly viewed as the "market radical mainstream."
"It does not really exist," said Platzeck to applause, adding: "The social welfare state lives!"
Germany's inconclusive September general election, he said, showed a majority of Germans wanted to keep social benefits built up over past decades.
"A basic 'no' to the social welfare state is incapable of getting a majority in Germany," said Platzeck.
The new SPD chief hailed Germany's trade unions and called for their power to be expanded.
"I cannot imagine Germany without trade unions and I don't want to imagine it," he said.
These views contrast with Merkel who says Germany must revamp its economy to cut 11 per cent unemployment and reverse five years of stagnation.
Platzeck, who is 51, hardly mentioned economic reforms during his one-hour speech other than to say Germany had to learn from its Nordic neighbours.
He held up Finland as a special model with its competitive economy, balanced budgets and booming high-tech sector.
Platzeck said Finland's former Social Democratic premier, Paavo Lipponen, had told him the Finnish miracle was based on two things: creativity of the people and a social welfare system on which citizens could rely if they need it.
"It's not that complicated ... We can learn from the northern Europeans," said Platzeck. "It's about education, family, economy and technology."
Turning to domestic issues, Platzeck warned against viewing the threat of neo-Nazis as over.
"They don't turn up with jack-boots and shaved heads any more," said Platzeck adding that rightists were now grooming a far more polished and therefore dangerous threat.
"These are the same people whose forerunners brought the biggest disaster upon Germany," he said. "We must not give rightists a single square metre of space."
The German government this week said neo-Nazis have killed three people since 2001 and that there have been 32 confirmed cases of attempted murder by rightists.
Two of the dead were killed in Platzeck's native Brandenburg which last year had the highest per capita rate of neo-Nazi violence.
Platzeck wrapped up his speech by declaring that he had been socially formed during his first 35 years living in communist East Germany - and that he was happy and proud of this fact.
He reminded the SPD that he had grown up on the east side of the Glienicke Bridge which connects Potsdam with former West Berlin and was used for Cold War spy trades.
"I grew up thinking I would never cross that bridge," said Platzeck with tears welling up in his eyes as he recounted his emotional first crossing of the Glienicke Bridge after the 1989 opening of the Berlin Wall.
"Today, sometimes on early Sunday mornings before there is too much traffic ... I cross the bridge and have the same feelings," he added.
Subject: German news