The co-leader of the German SPD: “A strong EU with social democratic values ​​is the best guarantee of peace, freedom and justice” | International

It was not part of the travel plan, but the first heat wave of the season has surprised Lars Klingbeil (Soltau, Germany; 44 years old) in Madrid. The co-leader of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), a position he has held together with Saskia Esken since December 2021, has met with the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has paid a visit to the socialist caucus in Congress and has spoken with members of think tanks, event organized by the Ebert Foundation and Public Agenda. Spain is part of a small European tour that has taken him to Portugal, Sweden or Belgium to talk about the role of social democracy in the EU, which he considers “the best guarantee of peace, freedom and justice”, and the change of era that involves Russia’s war in the Ukraine. “I was born privileged, in an environment of peace, stability and calm. And now I find myself at the head of the party in times of serious crisis. Our generation has to make many fundamental and difficult decisions, ”he says at the Madrid headquarters of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation this Thursday.

Ask. For the first time in a long time, the Social Democrats lead the German Government at the head of a coalition. Has the SPD got its pulse back?

Response. Indeed, it is the first progressive government that we formed in a long time, together with the Liberals and the Greens; it is a great success. As general secretary of the party, I directed the electoral campaign of Olaf Scholz. Nobody really believed that we were going to make it. We won and soon a pandemic arrived, the war in Ukraine, inflation… Which means a great responsibility because the population has suffered many impacts. I think that right now – Germany, Spain, Europe – we need more social democracy.

P. There are countries, like France, Poland or Hungary, where his in-laws suffer.

R. I have seen recent polls on Italy and it can be seen that social democracy is also regaining leadership. At the end of this month I will travel to Poland and the Baltic countries: we have to be stronger again in these countries. That is why we Social Democrats have to help each other. A strong EU with social democratic values ​​is the best guarantee of peace, freedom and justice.

P. Elections have just been held in the Länder North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s largest, and Schleswig-Holstein, and the SPD has done poorly in both regions.

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R. Before these votes, there were elections in Sarre. There we obtained an absolute majority. Despite this, it is true that in the latter we have reaped worse results. Polls tell us that people did not vote for the SPD because they felt abandoned in the face of inflation and rising energy prices. For this reason, in the Executive of the party we have initiated a debate. One of the measures that we have proposed is that some companies —energy, oil or those that obtain large profits from the war and the crisis— should participate more in financing the common good; raising taxes on these companies is correct. That increase is also a proposal from the European Commission.

P. There are certain parties, such as their Liberal partners or many in the Conservative sphere, who are reluctant or directly opposed to any tax increases.

R. The Greens support this idea, but it is true that the Liberals are more skeptical. The question, the big question, is how we are going to finance the consolidation of the social State; digitization; put a stop to debt…

P. What do the Germans think?

R. I think they understand. Since the proposal to tax the aforementioned corporate profits more was raised, I have received many expressions of support. Also from the business sector.

The co-leader of the SPD has completed a European mini-tour in Madrid, in which he has visited other politicians from the socialist family.
The co-leader of the SPD has completed a European mini-tour in Madrid, in which he has visited other politicians from the socialist family. Louis Sevillano

P. Russia has announced a gas supply cut for Italy and Germany. What forecasts are you considering for the winter?

R. We have to prepare for all possible scenarios because, really, nobody knows what they are going to do [el presidente ruso, Vladímir] Putin. Right now, we’re building up reserves. And the Minister of Economy [y vicecanciller, de Los Verdes], Robert Habeck, is making an appeal to the population to save energy. At the same time, we must accelerate the energy transformation. Also, get rid of dependence on Russian oil – something I hope we will achieve by the end of this year – as well as gas, which we hope to leave in 2024. On the other hand, an opportunity emerges with liquefied natural gas (LNG). We are working flat out so that Putin does not blackmail us.

P. Now it is working at full speed, but don’t you think that action should have been taken before?

R. The answer is yes. We have made mistakes in the past. In German politics there has always been a consensus around the need to have gas and oil at an affordable price, which in turn was one of the keys to the successful German economic model. After Georgia, in 2008, and after the invasion of Crimea, in 2014; we should have reacted. You have to say it openly. It is important to draw lessons from this for the future. Now, for example, we see that our digital dependency on China or the US is increasing. It is important not to let that dependency go further; European technological sovereignty is important.

The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, met with the co-president of the German Social Democrats (SPD), Lars Klingbeil, on June 16 in Madrid.
The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, met with the co-president of the German Social Democrats (SPD), Lars Klingbeil, on June 16 in Madrid.

P. Has ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s relationship with Gazprom’s business environment and with Russian President Vladimir Putin had an impact on the party?

R. Schröder has no position in the party. And for the last 16 years he has not held the chancellorship, but he has dedicated himself to being a businessman alongside Putin. It is something that we criticize. Putin is a war criminal.

P. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long tenure, from 2005 to 2021, and her relationship with Russia and Putin have also come under increased scrutiny. She has defended her appeasement policy with the Russian leader. What does she think about it?

R. I have a deep respect for Angela Merkel; she has led Germany through many crises and difficult times. For that it deserves recognition. With regard to Russia, I insist, there has always been a broad consensus in Germany around the idea of ​​finding a way. Many supported that policy, although they now distance themselves from it. We must admit mistakes: we do not listen enough to our neighbors to the East.

P. Is one of those learnings the Zeitenwendethe so-called turning point in German politics, which has led to a rethinking of decades of consensus in the international sphere, security or energy?

R. The Zeitenwende It is the war that Putin has criminally started, destroying the peace and world order that we knew. That is why Germany has decided to send weapons [a Ucrania]; increase the budget for the Army; or look for other energy sources. On the trip that I am making, we have talked about the change of era that we are witnessing. The war in Ukraine is going to mark our lives for the next 20 years. We must rethink supply chains or promote European non-dependence on autocratic regimes. Germany can play a leading role.

P. Aside from autocratic regimes, the populist far right is still strong in Europe. Does that seem like a threat to you?

R. It’s a threat. In Germany, the extreme right is present in several regional parliaments, as well as in the national one. And they always try to divide society: with the pandemic; blaming the government for inflation; not supporting him in the face of war…

P. Many radical right-wing populisms share a strategy.

R. That is why I am also making this trip: to show that social democracy is a political force that can counteract the extreme right. We have eight heads of government in Europe and we participate in another five: there are 13 governments of a social democratic nature. Populists have simple answers to complex problems. We have solutions.

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