Home Germany News New SPD chairman next to Saleh: Giffey goes to Berlin’s Red Baroness

New SPD chairman next to Saleh: Giffey goes to Berlin’s Red Baroness


A bad title, but now a new party post: After Franziska Giffey renounced her doctorate in her plagiarism affair, she was elected to the top of the Berlin SPD with a strong result. The Federal Minister for Family Affairs has a plan for the capital.

A woman has to do that first: to talk about school toilets in an application speech for the Berlin SPD chairmanship, which is unofficially an application for the top candidate for the office of governing mayor. Well, actually Federal Family Minister Franziska Giffey only talks on this Friday evening about the cleanliness of schools in general and about her time as Neukölln District Councilor for School, Education, Sport and Culture, which was only five years ago. But anyone who knows the Berlin school landscape has unspeakable toilets in mind when it comes to the term cleanliness. Giffey therefore says that she wants her own cleaning staff for the schools again, because a clean school shows as soon as you enter, “there is a train in it, it works”.

With 89 percent of the vote, Berlin’s SPD elected the 42-year-old to the first dual leadership in the history of the state association. One can assume that Giffey’s SPD, which is ailing in polls, has high hopes for them precisely because of such speeches. Wanting to be close to the people and their everyday problems – including the choice of words – is the trademark of the former mayor of Neukölln. Their co-chairman, the SPD state parliamentary group leader Raed Saleh, who was unpopular with supporters of the previous chairman Michael Müller, received 69 percent.

The target of the top candidacy is now official

The regional association wants to send Giffey into the race to succeed the Governing Mayor Michael Müller. This project has been official since Saturday morning: “If you want it, then I’m ready to be your top candidate next year,” said Giffey when she accepted her election at the digital party congress. Born in Brandenburg, she would be the first woman in the Rotes Rathaus and is the first woman to head the Berlin SPD, the regional association of such great social democrats as Ernst Reuter and Willy Brandt.

If the corona pandemic had not occurred, Giffey and Saleh would have been elected according to plan at the failed party conference in spring. After all, they agreed on this succession plan with Müller at the beginning of the year. The 55-year-old Müller wants to look for political luck in the Bundestag in view of his weak popularity ratings and the much worse polls from the Berlin SPD.

SPD only third force

Giffey, who became known nationwide in her office as mayor of the Neukölln district from 2015, is still considered to be a great young talent of the SPD after three years as Federal Minister for Family Affairs. This may also be due to her appearance: Even her conservative demeanor – often in a Merkel blazer and a silk scarf, plus strictly coiffed hair – does not detract from Giffey’s youthful impression. In addition, she has a very clear voice due to illness, which is why Giffey only switched from her intended teaching career to politics. Giffey had to fear that her vocal organ would not be able to pass a class.

In order to finally move into the front row of federal politics as Berlin’s governing mayor, the mother of a son, who grew up near Frankfurt an der Oder, must succeed with her SPD to overtake the polls leading Greens and the second-placed CDU. These line up with the little-known Bettina Jarasch and the rather pale CDU member of the Bundestag, Kai Wegner, as the top candidates. Giffey, on the other hand, is one of the most famous politicians in the country and enjoys stable sympathy ratings.

Giffey wants a functioning city

Talking to people is the great strength of the woman, who liked to quote her predecessor in the office of Neukölln mayor, Heinz Buschkowsky, with the sentence: “The mother of all local politics is the local view.” Another of their guiding principles is borrowed from the SPD founding father Ferdinand Lasalle, according to which “saying what is” is a revolutionary act. Even in the Neukölln town hall, it was not difficult for Giffey to name the problems in her district with residents from around 160 nations, including the topic of clan crime.

As Berlin’s new SPD chairman, Giffey wants to put the issue of internal security next to housing, education, work and administration at the top of the agenda. “We want many people in the city to be able to say: ‘Dit find ick jut.'”, Giffey outlined her ideas of a functioning city in her application speech on Friday evening. Giffey and Saleh, they made it clear, want to reach the working center of the city above all – at the head of a particularly left-wing SPD state association.

Giffey’s rise is a good thing for the SPD. Young, female and East German: Of the better-known Social Democrats, only Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig has this to offer. Giffey’s family story also fits in with the SPD’s self-image of still being the party of social advancement: Dad runs a car workshop with one of her two brothers, in which her mother does the accounting. The family has experienced all the upheavals of the time of change. Franziska Giffey then made a career in the capital, which is geographically very close and yet worlds away. And not the only one in the family: Giffey’s nephew Niels is a professional basketball player at Alba Berlin and a national player.

CDU holds up the memory of plagiarism affair

In her political career, Giffey has already accumulated two affairs, even if only one of them is to be attached to her personally: the plagiarism in her doctoral thesis confirmed by a commission of the Free University of Berlin (FU) and the dismissal of her husband Karsten Giffey. The fact that the veterinarian Giffey immediately lost his position at the State Office for Health and Social Affairs and his civil servant status due to irregularities in his working time accounting was considered a relatively harsh punishment by observers.

On the other hand, the Berlin CDU and AfD Giffey, among others, accuse them of having received special treatment from the FU because of their position and their party book. Giffey had only issued a reprimand for missing sources in her dissertation instead of revoking her title. Giffey has since decided not to use the doctorate in his name. This personal decision is of no legal significance. The FU wants to check the plagiarism and the resulting sanctions again in January.

It is possible that Giffey will prematurely leave the office of Federal Minister if an official title is withdrawn. Giffey does not comment publicly on either incident. However, the CDU has already made it clear that it does not want to give up on the plagiarism affair.

There is still a shortage of daycare places

Giffey’s work as Federal Minister for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth also offers open areas for attack: In the Corona crisis, Giffey found it difficult to get through with her issues. Neither in the Corona cabinet nor in the negotiations between the federal government and the states, she sits at the table. The Corona family bonus of 300 euros per child is your project. But like Hubertus Heil, Giffey is one of the more quiet hardworkers in the government.

In addition, one of their core projects is stalling: the expansion of the daycare places. According to calculations by the Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), there was a shortage of 342,000 publicly funded childcare places on March 1, 127,000 more than in 2015. With the Good Daycare Act passed in early 2019, Giffey had federal funds of over 5.5 billion euros for the federal states provided the expansion. As part of the Corona aid, Giffey struck out another billion for childcare. But the demand for daycare places is increasing faster than the actual increase in supply and because it is up to the states to implement the federal funds, Giffey’s influence is limited.

Difficult SPD balance

The most recent highlight of their work is the coalition’s agreement on the introduction of a quota for women on boards of listed companies. Other successes of her ministerial time, such as improvements in parental allowance and support services for families, are hard-won but not necessarily effective in the public eye.

You can believe Giffey that child poverty and equal opportunities are key issues for her. “I’ve always been concerned with how many children and how many families live in very, very difficult social circumstances,” she said recently in a round of introductions to Berlin SPD members. She joined the SPD because this party was most in favor of “decoupling educational success from social background”.

Together with Saleh, she now not only wants to make Berlin schools cleaner, but also to make pioneers of digitization in the state. A full-bodied announcement in view of the fact that the schools in the capital have the most problems in Germany, especially with staff and equipment, despite immense expenditure. The SPD cannot blame anyone else for this in the upcoming election campaign: In autumn 2021, the Berlin education administration will be in SPD hands for 25 years in a row.

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