Sigmar Gabriel hopes for decisive victory in leadership election

Sigmar Gabriel [SPD Hamburg/Flickr]

Refugees will dominate the three day meeting of the SPD in Berlin. Party leader Sigmar Gabriel is almost certainly going to be re-elected, but the nature of his victory will be all-important. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

The stark reality is waiting just around the corner: more than 2,000 refugees are currently housed in a hall within a stone’s throw of where the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) will meet. 600 of the party’s delegates will meet today (10 December) in Berlin’s ‘CityCube’ conference hall.

On the agenda is the party leader and leadership election, talks on how best to approach the 2017 parliamentary elections, the refugee crisis and the war in Syria. Due to the jam-packed schedule, many of the delegates will have little time to go speak to the asylum seekers.

Refugee policy will take centre-stage on the first day. Party leader Sigmar Gabriel will have a delicate task on his hands, as he seeks to unite a party that is no less divided on the issue than society itself. One camp wants refugee rights to be the focus, while the other side wants further immigration to be restricted.

Whereas some party members advocate a more restrictive line on asylum seekers, others are critical of the ‘safe-list’ of countries of origin or in favour of more family reunification.

>>Read: Putin and Gabriel team up on Nord Stream 2 against Brussels

Gabriel, who is in favour of limiting the number of refugees entering Germany, wants both opposing sides of his party to commit to refugee quotas, without even touching the right to asylum. Even this could be problematic among the leadership though.

Outgoing Secretary-General Yasmin Fahimi recently said that the country could keep admitting the numbers it has already accepted, going completely against Gabriel’s wish to slow down the influx of arrivals. It seems likely that the recent decision to approve military operations in Syria against the so-called Islamic State will come under fire too.

The refugee issue will perforate every subject that the SPD addresses during its three-day long meeting, and will mould the party’s strategy as it prepares for the run up to the 2017 elections.

Today (10 December), the party will also broach the subject of family policy, in particular the matter of married couples’ income-tax splitting schemes.

Schröder to make an appearance

While many of the party’s leftists will not object to the SPD branding itself as a family party, many in the group will not be on board with Gabriel’s stance on TTIP, and the already-finalised CETA free trade agreement.

>>Read: SMEs want a TTIP rethink

Gabriel’s re-election as party chief is somewhat of a foregone conclusion. His supporters hope that he will be able to surpass the result of two years ago when he garnered 84% of the vote. A result that was, in certain parts of the SPD, considered to be mediocre.

A good result would strengthen Gabriel’s chances if he decides to run for Chancellor, and would improve his position when it comes to negotiating with the rest of the ruling coalition.

If Gabriel were to be re-elected with less than 80% of the vote, it would be a big blow to his future ambitions.

The Vice-Chancellor is not counting his chickens yet either. Gerhard Schröder will speak at the event, but only as a commemorative speaker for the recently departed Egon Bahr, Günter Grass and Helmut Schmidt. Anything more could be potentially risky for Gabriel.

This article was also published by EURACTIV Germany.

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