SPD breaks with former chancellor Schröder over Russia lobbying

Gerhard Schröder with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 2016. Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images


Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder once said that all he needed to govern successfully was “the telly and Bild”.

There was a certain irony, then, for Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) to break with their former leader on Bild’s new television station.

“I find Gerhard Schröder’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict as wrong as his engagement for Gazprom,” said Lars Klingbeil, co-leader of the SPD, which Schröder led to power in 1998.

Those remarks appear to end the party’s tortuous no-comment policy on Schröder, dating back to his 2005 federal election defeat. Weeks before that poll Schröder signed off on the plan to build the original Nord Stream pipeline, carrying Russian natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany.

Months after leaving office, he joined the supervisory board of the consortium building the Russian-led pipeline. Since 2017 he has been head of the supervisory board of Rosneft, a state-controlled Russian energy company; later this year he is set to join the board of Russian state-controlled energy consortium Gazprom.

‘Sabre-rattling’

Schröder suggested in an interview last month that Ukraine should stop its “sabre-rattling” towards Russia. After weeks of stunned silence, senior SPD members have fanned out across the German media to condemn the 77-year-old’s remarks – and his well-paid lobby work for Moscow.

Klingbeil said the ex-chancellor’s remarks had “nothing to do with what the SPD leadership and chancellor stand for, for what we are engaged and for what we stand for”.

SPD general secretary Kevin Kühnert accused Schröder of “blurring the line between his business activities and the hearing he gets as a former government leader”.

“It’s not just not okay,” he added, “it’s sad.”

While party officials have lined up to insist Schröder has no say in government policy, an opposition query revealed the ex-chancellor held a meeting at the SPD-controlled federal interior ministry on January 5th.

The meeting was about “the future of German-Russian relations and the situation of civil society”, a ministry spokesperson said.

That has renewed calls for cuts to how much the German taxpayer bankrolls Schröder’s post-political arrangements.

Entitlements

As well as a chancellor pension of €6,446 a month, he has entitlements from his time as state premier of Lower Saxony, while the German state pays approximately €560,000 annually to cover the costs of his Berlin office. His Nord Stream role brings in €250,000, according to reports, while from Rosneft, Schröder says he earned “less than €700,000” annually.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a political protege of Schröder, chose his words carefully in a television news interview: “There is only one chancellor and that’s me.”

After a week of busy diplomacy on both sides of the Atlantic, Scholz held talks on Thursday evening with the prime ministers of the three Baltic countries.

“We are united and determined,” said Scholz, promising to send an additional 300 German troops to Lithuania. “We are taking the concerns of our allies very seriously.”