Social Democrats turn left again for voters

28th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

28 October 2007, Hamburg (dpa) - Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partner in the coalition government, recommitted itself to "democratic socialism" Sunday in winding up a watershed congress aimed at reviving the party's fortunes ahead of the 2009 elections. The 144-year-old party approved a new basic party programme for only the third time since World War II, reasserting core social democratic values at the end of a three-day congress in Hamburg that saw a distinct turn to the left. "The

28 October 2007

Hamburg (dpa) - Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partner in the coalition government, recommitted itself to "democratic socialism" Sunday in winding up a watershed congress aimed at reviving the party's fortunes ahead of the 2009 elections.

The 144-year-old party approved a new basic party programme for only the third time since World War II, reasserting core social democratic values at the end of a three-day congress in Hamburg that saw a distinct turn to the left.

"There is no humanity when our actions are not guided by solidarity," party chairman Kurt Beck told more than 500 delegates gathered in Hamburg on the final day of the congress. The programme received near-unanimous support.

A poll published Sunday in the mass-circulation Bild newspaper showed that 47 percent of Germans believed the SPD had shifted to the left, with 38 per cent taking the opposite view. Within the SPD itself, 49 percent saw their party as having moved left.

But political observers were near unanimous in discerning a move to the left.

Beck, the main author of the shift, was confirmed in office Friday with the support of more than 95 per cent of the delegates, scoring even more than he did on his election last year.

The party's revised course did not mean a break with the past but rather an attempt to "answer the questions of today and the challenges of tomorrow," Beck said.

Christian Democrat (CDU) Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the shift in her coalition partner as a "reversion to socialism."

CDU general secretary, Ronald Pofalla, accused the SPD of abandoning the "policies of the centre" of Gerhard Schroeder, SPD chancellor from 1998 to 2005.

The party's new "Hamburg Programme" - updating the 1989 Berlin Programme - contains several references to the term "democratic socialism," which has been controversial within the party over recent years.

During the congress, the SPD voted to roll back some of the harsher aspects of the market reforms implemented under Schroeder four years ago.

Delegates decided in favour of paying unemployment benefit at the full rate to older claimants for longer than previously, easing the transition to retirement at 67 for manual workers and paying child support to the age of 27, rather than 25.

Beck pushed through the changes in a bitter battle carried out through the media in the weeks ahead of the conference with SPD heavyweight Franz Muentefering, labour minister and vice-chancellor, and a champion of the Schroeder reforms.

The party congress nevertheless backed a plan supported by SPD cabinet ministers to part-privatize the national rail company Deutsche Bahn, although with strong reservations.

The congress also backed imposing a speed limit of 130 kilometres an hour on German motorways - on some stretches of which there is no limit - largely with the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Motor industry president Matthias Wissmann described the vote as "of little ecological use and purely symbolic."

While the proposal to extend unemployment benefits for those older than 50 is to receive serious consideration from the Merkel cabinet, most of the other decisions will have little immediate impact on government.

But the votes have strengthened the hand within the party of Beck, who was celebrated over the weekend in Hamburg as "King Kurt." On current performance he is set to be the party's champion to challenge Merkel in the 2009 elections.

There was even an endorsement from party veteran Schroeder for easing some aspects of the market-oriented reform policies pushed through four years ago under his chancellorship.

Schroeder called for unity in the party after weeks of infighting over a proposal from SPD chairman Kurt Beck to extend unemployment benefit payments for older claimants.

The "Agenda 2010" reforms agreed in 2003 and implemented under his leadership in the face of opposition from the left of the party should be subject to change and development, Schroeder said.

"They were an instrument, not the goal."

Schroeder also hit out at Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian alliance (CDU/CSU) for laying claim to the success of the reforms.

"You are the original. They are plagiarists," he said to applause from the party faithful.

DPA

Subject: German news

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