The SPD has to save: The Social Democrats not only lose voters, but also the money – politics


For a person who has to do a thankless task, Dietmar Nietan usually exudes a very good mood. For six and a half years, the member of the Bundestag from North Rhine-Westphalia has been watching over the finances of the SPD – a party that has rapidly lost popularity during this time. And that is why the 56-year-old left party has to cut spending, reorganize structures and raise new money so that the SPD remains able to act politically at all. Now he wants to advertise to state and district associations to avoid unnecessary expenses in the future.

Nietan can use a robust mind in his job. Before the election of Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans at the end of 2019, he already worked with Sigmar Gabriel, Martin Schulz, Andrea Nahles as chairman and several acting party leaders. If you believe the treasurer, his suggestions always got a listen despite the many changes: “The party leadership has been supporting my consistent austerity course for years, which still leaves room for future investments and increases the ability to campaign.”

Its central message is: In the long run, the SPD cannot afford the apparatus and the election campaign of a 40 percent party with the income of a party with a Bundestag election result of 20 percent.

Where the red pen rules

At least the party executive understood that. At the beginning of the summer, its members adopted the latest, radical austerity program.

“Since then, we’ve been using the red pencil in all areas, but the biggest cost items are election campaigns, as well as personnel and operating costs,” says Nietan. The SPD has kept operating costs constant for years, including by renting out the Willy Brandt House. This is not the first time that foreign users have moved into the building with the pointed bow. Rentals were part of the concept when the party headquarters was planned, Nietan assures.

In the most important upcoming political debate, of all things, the SPD must now step backwards: “In the coming federal election campaign, we want to save ten million euros: 40 percent compared to the last federal election. For me a tough, but consistent cut. ”In addition, the SPD will noticeably reduce personnel expenses by 2023. And the party leadership is not spared either: the number of vice-party leaders is expected to drop from five to three at the party congress at the end of 2021.

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Every member will soon feel that their own party is clammy: the contribution rates are rising. The increase was originally supposed to come into effect on July 1st. Out of consideration for the stress in Corona times, the step was postponed by half a year.

A social democrat in a good mood: Dietmar Nietan has been the SPD federal treasurer since January 2014.Photo: promo

Not all state and district associations are as clammy as the federal party. When it comes to wealth, the treasurer is worse off than many colleagues in smaller party units. Of the total assets of the SPD of 30 million euros in 2018, only around 13 million went to the federal party, but around 17 million to state associations, districts and subordinate associations.

During his analysis, Nietan noticed that money was being lost in the federal structure of the SPD. For example, regional associations decide to purchase their own computer programs that do not harmonize with those of the federal party. His goal is for the SPD to act more as an overall organization in the future – for example by having its divisions work more closely together on digitization.

Then there are still the company holdings of the SPD. Wouldn’t a sale make money for an election campaign with greater reach in the coming year? In response to this question, the treasurer becomes fundamental. Five years ago, the SPD had its investments checked by external experts.

“I defend myself with hands and feet”

The result, according to Nietan: “Even if the media industry is in a difficult position at the moment, there is no better form of investment to secure not only the diversity of opinion in the media, but also the assets built up with the workers’ penny over 150 years.” he only spend the money once. His conclusion: “I would defend myself with hands and feet to sell the SPD’s stakes in the company.”

The tight budgets will also bother someone who would like to turn the big wheel again: Martin Schulz. If the former SPD leader and candidate for chancellor is elected as the successor to Kurt Beck as chairman of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in December, he will have to be the commissioner for savings. “In the FES, 70 jobs are to be saved due to lower federal election results,” says a long-time employee.

Others estimate that there will be at least 60 job cuts. So far the foundation has around 610 employees. Internally, it is said that as a social democratic institution, every opportunity will be used to avoid redundancies for operational reasons.

Soon back at the top – namely the Friedrich Ebert Foundation: Martin Schulz, here in his Bundestag office.Photo: Mike Wolff

In 2019 the budget was 184 million euros – but the good times are coming to an end. That has a bit to do with Martin Schulz – with the result of the federal parliament election of 20.5 percent in 2017, for which he is responsible. Funding for the political foundations is usually based on the election results of the last four legislative periods, the FES emphasizes . So far, based on the elections of 2005 (SPD: 34.2 percent), 2009 (23.0 percent), 2013 (25.7) and those of 2017. Since 2021, however, the result with Gerhard Schröder from 2005 will be eliminated, there is a risk of considerable budget cuts, especially if the SPD only lands at 16 percent.

In addition, the AfD should then also be entitled to millions in grants for its Desiderius Erasmus Foundation. So far, the rule has been that a party is entitled to funding for the foundation close to it after two Bundestag moves.
So the cake will be smaller anyway. “That doesn’t look good at all,” says a foundation expert. During the founding period, from 1925 to 1931, only 295 scholarship holders could be funded; In 2019 there were 2,838 students and doctoral candidates.

Selfie with treasurer: Dietmar Nietan in September 2017 with the then party leader Martin Schulz and labor minister Andrea …Photo: AFP

According to the FES, there were 3,194 educational events, discussion forums, specialist conferences and exhibitions in Germany last year alone, with around 150,000 participants. The archive is the largest in Germany on the history of social democracy, trade unions and the labor movement.

In addition to the work in Germany through educational institutions, there are also 107 foreign offices. But the social democratic parties of other countries with which the FES has networked are often even worse off than the SPD.

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The Association of Taxpayers (BdSt) sees a far too great waste of taxpayers’ money, and the allocation of funds in the negotiations in the budget committee of the Bundestag is far too opaque. The foundations of the CDU, CSU, FDP, SPD, Greens and Left would receive a total of 542 million euros from the budget of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Development, criticized the BdSt in June. And all of this without the funds for promoting talented students, i.e. the scholarships. Although these are state transfers, there is no legislation governing the use and control of tax funds for the foundations.

In the adjustment meeting of the Bundestag budget committee alone, the funds for the international activities of the foundations were increased by 21 million euros to 340 million euros, criticized the BdST. Together with funds from the Federal Foreign Office, 75 percent of the state grants are now flowing abroad. If there were cuts here, it would be a heavy burden for Schulz, who is passionate about foreign policy – and who would certainly like to set new accents on the European and international issues.

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