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PROFILE For SPD's new chief, it was choice between 'housewife or chancellor' By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - Andrea Nahles, the presumptive next head of Germany‘s Social Democrats (SPD), has been a key backroom player in the centre-left party‘s power struggles since she first began to make her mark on the national political stage about 15 years ago.

Now, the 47-year-old finds herself in the eye of a new storm as she attempts to impose her authority on the party amid uproar about a new coalition deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s conservatives, and her likely elevation to party chief.

Nahles shot to national political fame during the fraught days of the last SPD government, 15 years ago, when, as a left-wing lawmaker, she helped lead a party rebellion against its tough social reforms.

Her task now is to try to lead the SPD to a revival after a series of election humiliations last year plunged the demoralized party into an identity crisis, and now a likely coalition with Merkel that most of its members had sworn they did not want to repeat.

An SPD member since she was 18, Nahles is credited with helping to swing her divided party behind agreeing to take up the coalition talks with a passionate speech at a special party conference in January.

However, her first major test as party chief is likely to come in the coming weeks when she mounts a campaign to try to sell the SPD‘s new coalition deal with Merkel to the party‘s reluctant and restive membership, who are to vote on the deal by March 2. Beyond that, she must convince members to vote for her in a special election on April 22.

Underlining current tensions in the SPD, the leadership‘s decision to appoint her to the post met with stiff opposition from sections of the party. The push against Nahles is not so much directed against her, rather it shows discontent with what some members see as an authoritarian push to appoint a chairwoman in a decision that they say should have been left to a membership vote.

Nonetheless, Nahles‘ path to power got more momentum Tuesday night when failed chancellor candidate Martin Schulz announced his immediate resignation as party head.

And she is not without backing.

"This is a renewal in every way," said Stephan Weil, the SPD premier of the central German state of Lower Saxony last week, arguing Nahles stood for a change after Schulz announced he would standing down to make way for her.

The SPD‘s new so-called Frontfrau once famously declared in her high school magazine that her goal in life was either "housewife or chancellor."

Indeed, should Nahles convince a majority of the SPD rank-and-file to back the coalition deal, it could help to set her on the road to becoming the party‘s chancellor candidate at the next national election in 2021.

But failure to secure votes for the new coalition would significantly undercut her political authority in the party and plunge the SPD deeper into crisis.

Separated and the mother of a young daughter, Nahles would be the first woman to head up the SPD in its 154-year history.

Her appointment comes 18 years after the SPD‘s regular political rivals, the conservative Christian Democrats, elected its first female leader: Angela Merkel.

A former head of the party‘s youth wing, Nahles stepped up her consolidation of power in the SPD in 2009 when she was elected its general secretary - a move that some analysts saw at the time as tilting the party to the left.

More recently, however, Nahles has made a tack towards the political centre of German political life.

The SPD considers Nahles to have been one of its more successful members in Merkel‘s most recent coalition with the SPD, which began in 2013.

As labour and social affairs minister, Nahles oversaw the introduction of a slew of SPD initiatives, including the launch of the minimum wage and pension improvements, including for Holocaust survivors.

Her next step up the party ladder came in September last year when she was appointed SPD parliamentary leader, as part of the party‘s efforts to regroup after its election result sunk to a mere 20.5 per cent - its lowest level since modern Germany was founded.

But now with a paucity of leaders, Nahles could be one of the SPD‘s last chances to rescue it from its misfortunes.


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