It wasn’t part of the travel plan, but the first heat wave of the season caught Lars Klingbeil (Soltau, Germany; 44 years old) in Madrid by surprise. The co-chair of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which he has held jointly with Saskia Esken since December 2021, met with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, paid a visit to the Socialist faction in Congress and spoke to members of think tanks, event organized by the Ebert Foundation and Public Agenda. Spain is part of a small European tour that took him to Portugal, Sweden or Belgium to talk about the role of social democracy in the EU, which he sees as “the best guarantee of peace, freedom and justice” and the change of times that is going on about Russia’s war in Ukraine. “I was born privileged, in an environment of peace, stability and tranquillity. And now I find myself at the head of the party in a difficult time of crisis. Our generation has to make many fundamental and difficult decisions,” he said this Thursday at the Madrid headquarters of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.
Questions. For the first time in a long time, the Social Democrats are leading the federal government at the head of a coalition. Has the SPD found its pulse again?
Answer. It is indeed the first progressive government that we have formed together with the Liberals and the Greens in a long time; it’s a great success. As General Secretary of the party, I led Olaf Scholz’s election campaign. Nobody really believed that we would make it. We won and soon came a pandemic, the war in Ukraine, inflation… Which means a lot of responsibility because the population suffered a lot. 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 recently saw 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 States: we need to get stronger in these countries. That is why we social democrats must help each other. A strong EU with social democratic values is the best guarantee for peace, freedom and justice.
P Elections have just been held there Countries North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s largest, and Schleswig-Holstein, and the SPD fared poorly in both regions.
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R Before these votes there were elections in Sarre. We got an absolute majority there. Still, it’s true that we’ve had worse results on the latter. According to polls, people didn’t vote for the SPD because they felt let down by inflation and rising energy prices. For this reason, we have initiated a debate in the party executive. One of the measures we have proposed is that some companies – energy, oil or those that are reaping large profits from the war and crisis – should become more involved in financing the common good; The tax increase for these companies is correct. This increase is also a proposal from the European Commission.
P There are certain parties, like their Liberal counterparts or many in the Conservative realm, that are reluctant or outright opposed to 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 finance the consolidation of the welfare state; Digitalization; No more debt…
P What do the Germans think?
R I think you understand. I have received many expressions of support since the proposal to tax the above corporate profits more heavily was put forward. Also from the economy.
P Russia has announced cuts in gas supplies to Italy and Germany. What predictions are you considering for the winter?
R We have to prepare for all possible scenarios because nobody really knows what they will do [el presidente ruso, Vladímir] Putin. We’re building up reserves. And the economy minister [y vicecanciller, de Los Verdes], Robert Habeck, appeals to the population to save energy. At the same time, we must accelerate the energy transition. Also get rid of dependency on Russian oil – something we hope to achieve by the end of this year – as well as gas, which we hope to exit in 2024. On the other hand, there is an opportunity with liquefied natural gas (LNG). ). We are working flat out to ensure that Putin does not blackmail us.
P Things are in full swing now, but don’t you think that action should be taken sooner?
R The answer is yes. We have made mistakes in the past. There has always been a consensus in German politics about the need to have gas and oil at affordable prices, 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 that openly. It is important to learn lessons from this for the future. For example, now we are seeing our digital dependency on China or the US increasing, and it is important not to let that dependency continue to grow; European technological sovereignty is important.
P Does ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s relationship with Gazprom’s business environment and Russian President Vladimir Putin affect the party?
R Schröder has no office in the party. And for 16 years he has not held the chancellor’s office, but has dedicated himself to entrepreneurship alongside Putin. We criticize that. Putin is a war criminal.
P Former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lengthy tenure from 2005 to 2021 and her relationship with Russia and Putin have also come under increased scrutiny. She has defended her policy of appeasement of the Russian leader. What do you think about it?
R I have great respect for Angela Merkel; carried Germany through many crises and difficult times. For that it deserves recognition. Regarding Russia, I maintain that there has always been a broad consensus in Germany on the idea of finding a way. Many supported this policy, although they now distance themselves from it. We have to admit mistakes: we don’t listen enough to our neighbors to the east.
P Is one of these insights the turning pointthe so-called turning point in German politics, which has led to a rethinking of decades of consensus issues in the international field, security or energy?
R The Zturnaround It is the war that Putin criminally started that is destroying the peace and world order we knew. Therefore, Germany decided to send weapons [a Ucrania]; increase the budget for the army; or look for other sources of energy. On the journey I’m taking, we’ve talked about the time change we’re experiencing right now. The war in Ukraine will shape our lives for the next 20 years. We need to rethink supply chains or promote European independence from autocratic regimes. Germany can play a leading role.
P Apart from autocratic regimes, the populist extreme 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 state parliaments and in the federal parliament. And they’re always trying to divide society: with the pandemic; blame the government for inflation; not to support him in the face of war …
P Many radical right-wing populisms share a strategy.
R That’s why I’m making this trip: to show that social democracy is a political force that can counter the extreme right. We have eight heads of government in Europe and 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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