ARCHIV - 08.09.2005, Berlin: Lachend steht der damalige Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder (r) während der Vertragsunterzeichnung über den Bau einer Erdgasleitung durch die Ostsee neben Russlands Präsident Wladimir Putin. (zu dpa «Vom Kanzler zum Sorgenkind der SPD: Der Fall des Gerhard Schröder») Foto: Bernd Settnik/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

The person to whom everything revolves in these proceedings had not come: in the absence of Gerhard Schröder, the hearing on the expulsion of the former chancellor from the SPD began in Hanover on Thursday. The leadership and large parts of his own party would like to get rid of him.

Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine turned the friendship between the Social Democrat from Hanover and Russian President Vladimir Putin and his years of well-paid lobbying into a scandal in their eyes. And the rather unreasonable former chancellor fueled the outrage when he defended his friend in the Kremlin after the atrocities in Bucha near Kyiv became known.

The withdrawal movement has reached a rapid pace: municipalities want to strip him of his honorary citizenship; Companies do without his well-paid advice; the Bundestag blocks the funds for his former chancellor’s office. And now the party order procedure: At the appointment on Thursday, 17 applications from district and local associations against Schröder were to be negotiated, the SPD party district in Hanover announced.

After losing the Bundestag elections in autumn 2005, just six months later Schröder became chairman of the shareholders’ committee at the operator of the Baltic Sea pipeline, Nord Stream AG – the pipeline that is now not supplying gas due to maintenance work and that Putin is using as a political weapon.

This was followed by engagements as Chairman of the Board of Directors at Nord Stream 2 (appointed in 2016) and as a member of the Supervisory Board at the Russian oil company Rosneft (2017-2022). After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Schröder stated that Putin was violating international law.

Nevertheless, he does not want to condemn Putin, who has “fears of encirclement” – an acceptance or confirmation of the Russian accusations that NATO with its eastward expansion created the problems in the first place. The former chancellor retained his post at Nord Stream.

Even after Russia’s attack on all of Ukraine in February of this year, it took months for Schröder to withdraw from Rosneft. The former chancellor was already rid of his office and his staff after a Bundestag resolution. His mediation attempt in Moscow, without consultation with the federal government, failed. He also now rejects a position on the board of directors of Gazprom.

Nevertheless, his statements on the Ukraine war remained rather pro-Russian. Schröder said it was the “responsibility of the Russian government” to end the war. However, the ties to Russia should not be completely severed.

The SPD man is still sticking to this line: a few days ago he told the FAZ that he wanted to keep in touch with Putin and did not believe in a military solution in Ukraine: “The war can only be ended through diplomatic negotiations”. And he criticized Ukraine in the conversation.

Many in the SPD are deeply disappointed by this, disappointed by their pithy and successful idol, who once led them from election victory to election victory. “Sad” – this word is heard more often in the party when it comes to how Schröder behaves today. A decision on a party penalty – a reprimand or more – was not made on Thursday. The Arbitration Commission intends to comment on this in the course of the next three weeks. From a legal point of view, however, it can be heard behind closed doors that an exclusion is extremely unlikely. For this, the politician would have to be proven that he deliberately harmed the party.

Will Schröder appear in future history books only as an aide to the despot Putin? Frank Bösch, director of the Center for Contemporary History Research in Potsdam, recently warned against forgetting the SPD chancellor’s merits during his time as head of the red-green coalition, such as the Agenda 2010 social and labor market reform or his no to the SPD Iraq war.