Jörg Laftsidis doesn’t want to talk about it. “The SPD’s situation is difficult, difficult, difficult,” he says. “The poll numbers are bad, but not everything that the traffic lights do is bad.” Laftsidis, 58, council member in Bochum, chairman of the Bochum-Hamme SPD local association, represents what once shaped social democracy. He was a miner for 35 years, is an alderman at the Bochum district court, sings in the Bochum police choir, and looks after senior citizens.

Laftsidis is a go-getter, once in the Consolidation and Prosper Haniel mines, now in local politics. He talks to citizens every day, he says on the phone, but unfortunately people generally have a negative attitude.

But it is not just the bad mood among the people that plagues Comrade Laftsidis. He is equally disappointed with his own Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Olaf’s performance is actually not the best, he seems weak in leadership,” says Laftsidis.

“Olaf should hit the table in the coalition and wash the FDP’s head,” says the 58-year-old. But maybe “Olaf” just isn’t the type for it. Laftsidis doesn’t even want to spread optimism or even practical optimism. He doubts that Scholz and the traffic light will gain momentum again.

And it sounds as if he has already written off the SPD chancellorship from 2025. “I don’t think Olaf can turn things around again,” says Laftsidis – and then turns to the defense minister. “Many people say: Boris Pistorius is better, is closer to the people, has rough edges and speaks a clear language. But it looks like a grand coalition after the next federal election anyway, with the SPD as a smaller partner.”   

Jörg Laftsidis is one comrade among many, one of around 360,000 members. But if you ask around in the SPD, you will come across a pattern: Scholz’s low popularity also poses problems for all those in the SPD who hold office for their party, attend appointments or sing in the choir as a Social Democrat.

The frustration with the traffic lights, the constant low in the polls and the defensive Chancellor – the SPD is a doubting, if not despairing party two weeks before the European elections.

“It depends on the Chancellor” is written on the SPD election posters. But what if the SPD breaks its record low of 15.8 percent from 2019 on June 9th? Germany’s most popular politician belongs to the SPD.

Boris Pistorius, the striking and omnipresent defense minister, has been leading the popularity rankings for months, by a wide margin. Wouldn’t it be obvious to go into the 2025 federal election with Pistorius? Pistorius doesn’t want to hear about the speculation.

He doesn’t sit on any chair and assures his chancellor of his loyalty (which is not always the case the other way around). “We have an excellent chancellor, and he will also be the next candidate for chancellor,” said Pistorius on Wednesday during a visit to Lithuania. “This discussion is really unnecessary, we don’t need it right now.”

This discussion is being held within the SPD, but rarely in public. While SPD officials and elected officials in the federal government guard their tongues, at Pentecost a leading local politician campaigned for Pistorius to run for chancellor.

“A lot of the SPD base says: Pistorius is clearly our number one,” said Heiko Wittig, parliamentary group leader of the SPD in the North Saxony district, to the Tagesspiegel. With Pistorius as the top candidate, the SPD has “the best chance of winning the 2025 federal election.” , he said. Otherwise there will be “a rude awakening”.

The SPD leadership then apparently felt compelled to declare that Scholz would be a candidate for chancellor. In parts of the SPD, Comrade Wittig’s plea for Pistorius was read with interest and sent to party friends by email.

“He is the first to come out of hiding,” analyzes an SPD member of the Bundestag. Wittig’s plea cannot be dismissed as the pomp of a troublemaker. The man has been a member of the SPD and a local politician since 1990, has no ambitions to become anything, and has no unfinished business.

The words of a major Social Democrat about the SPD candidacy for chancellor in 2025 are of much greater force. Former SPD leader Franz Müntefering surprised his party late on Wednesday evening. Unlike the SPD establishment, Müntefering declared the question of the SPD candidacy for chancellor open. Müntefering told “Spiegel” that “it has not yet been answered” within the party who will be the top candidate for the federal election in 2025.

Müntefering’s announcement amounts to a reprimand for Scholz. The former vice chancellor, labor minister, party and parliamentary group leader is a technician of power, a man for whom loyalty counts for a lot. Little is more important to Müntefering than maintaining power. “Opposition is rubbish” – he coined this sentence. If you understand him correctly, he fears condemnation to the opposition.

Müntefering said about Pistorius that he was doing “a good job” and was a “lifelike guy”. But one should not underestimate what Scholz achieved in the Chancellery. “Olaf’s job is not easy, he is the one who has to balance things out.”

He didn’t want to speculate here, “in any direction,” Müntefering continued. Such an important decision as to who will run as candidate for chancellor is not simply announced, “these are processes that take place in the parties”. The SPD is also talking about it, and “then we will see what result we come to.”

According to those in the know, there is perplexity and despair in parts of the SPD parliamentary group. The MPs fear for their mandates. At 16 percent nationwide, a direct mandate in Aurich/Emden should still be enough, but beyond that? The decision to reduce the size of the Bundestag comes on top of that.

In the 2021 election, the SPD won 206 seats with 25.7 percent, half of which were newcomers. Dozens must expect to leave parliament involuntarily after four years. If there were an election today, only 111 members of the SPD would move to the Bundestag, electoral law expert Christian Brugger calculated for the Tagesspiegel.

Scholz’s environment is sticking to the old narrative that in 2021 they worked their way up from 16 percent in the polls and then won the election. The drawback before the next election, however, is that the Germans now have an image of Scholz.

Scholz will be a candidate again, SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert told the T-Online portal after Wittig’s intervention. There was a hint of defiance. However, the SPD does not want to officially choose the candidate until 2025. If you speak to experienced Social Democrats in the background, they use telling phrases. “At the moment” everything speaks for Scholz, and “at the moment” there is no candidate debate planned.

Franz Müntefering knows: Politics is sometimes dynamic, can change rapidly and cannot always be predicted rationally. This is especially true when mandates are at stake.

By Daniel Friedrich Sturm

The original for this article “Scholz’s frustration is growing in the SPD: “Otherwise there is a risk of a rude awakening”” comes from Tagesspiegel.