SPD votes to expel prominent former minister
Surprise after long-serving SPD member is expelled for being divisive within the party
Berlin -- Social Democrats in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, unexpectedly announced on Thursday that they had voted to expel Wolfgang Clement, a former state premier and prominent minister at federal level, who joined the party in 1970.
Clement, who left politics in 2005 to work in the power generation sector, described the decision as "a bolt from the blue" and observers saw it as a sign of a rising battle between the party's left and reformist wings.
An SPD arbitration committee in the state ruled that Clement, an Economics and Labour minister in the government of SPD former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, had undermined party solidarity.
North Rhine-Westphalia SPD chairwoman Hannelore Kraft expressed "regret that things have come this far," but others in the party said it was time for the former minister to go.
Clement told national public broadcaster ZDF he was considering legal action and would respond to the decision over the days ahead.
He angered SPD members in January when he queried the suitability of the SPD candidate for the premiership in the neighbouring state of Hesse during a closely fought election campaign.
Clement warned that the Hesse SPD would "lurch to the left" under Andrea Ypsilanti. He also attacked her energy policy after she came out against both nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
"For this reason, consider carefully and vote carefully who should be trusted with responsibility for the state," he wrote just a week before the January 27th election in the state.
The SPD narrowly missed ousting the ruling Christian Democrats in Hesse, and many blamed Clement's untimely intervention. He was formally criticised by the party.
After being appointed to the Schroeder cabinet in 2002 as a "super-minister" with two portfolios, Clement strongly backed market reforms in Schroeder's "Agenda 2010" programme in the face of opposition from the party's left wing.
He left politics after Christian Democrat (CDU) leader Angela Merkel took over from Schroeder in November 2005, following inconclusive elections that September.
Coming from a journalist background, Clement rose through the SPD ranks after joining the party in 1970. He became state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1998, resigning the post in 2002 to become a federal government minister.