German Finance Chief Ready to Lead Push to Revive SPD Fortunes

Birgit Jennen

(Bloomberg) -- German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has reversed course and is willing to run for the job of co-leader in his Social Democratic party, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Scholz, who is also vice chancellor in the ruling coalition, signaled his willingness to run in a telephone call Monday with interim SPD leaders, Der Spiegel magazine reported earlier Friday. His change of heart was prompted by a lack of heavyweight candidates for the twin positions.

Finance Ministry Spokeswoman Helene Bechtle declined to comment when asked about Scholz’s decision at a regular government news conference Friday.

Scholz’s decision reinforces what has been his long-standing ambition to eventually run for the country’s top job. What isn’t clear is how he plans to boost the party’s dismal polling numbers without pulling out of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, a move many in his party support but he opposes. The Social Democrats are to vote on that issue as well as a new leadership later in the year.

The SPD has slumped to its lowest approval ratings on record, garnering around 12% or 10 percentage points less than just over two years ago. Regional elections in two states on Sept. 1 could become a tipping point if the SPD performs poorly. In Brandenburg, the party could lose for the first time since reunification in 1990 to the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, polls suggest.

Scholz, 61, is seen as one of the main anchors of Merkel’s ruling coalition, which has come under increasing pressure amid a slowing economy and growing demands to boost spending on climate change and infrastructure. Many Social Democrats say their party is performing poorly because it sacrificed its core principles in the partnership with Merkel’s center-right CDU.

Leftist, anti-coalition candidates have dominated the field of other competitors to lead the SPD, including deputy caucus leader Karl Lauterbach and legislator Nina Speer. Lauterbach has called on the government to ease fiscal discipline so as to finance environmental and educational projects.

“If Scholz is the only pro-coalition candidate left, he’ll have a good chance of winning at the party congress because the anti-coalition candidates would split the vote among themselves,” said Ingrid Arndt-Brauer, an SPD legislator on the finance committee in the lower house of parliament.

Scholz told interim party leaders Manuela Schwesig, Malu Dreyer and Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel on Monday that he is willing to run if asked to do so, Der Spiegel reported. Since then he has been seeking a female running mate, it said.

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