This weekend, Sigmar Gabriel became the longest-reigning chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) since former chancellor Willy Brandt, who led the left-leaning party in the 1970s. This is a feat that demands a certain amount of respect as no political party has changed its leadership as often as the SPD, now the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition government.
Between 2004 and 2009, for example, the party saw five leaders come and go. With five years and ten days in office, Mr. Gabriel now passes the tenureship of Gerhard Schröder, the last chancellor.
Yet there is little reason to celebrate. Although Mr. Gabriel is doing a good job as economics minister and vice-chancellor, his party is not rising in opinion polls.
In fact, the SPD’s performance in general is not the root cause of its disappointing approval ratings. The coalition’s reform projects – increase in the minimum wage, an agreement to set retirement at 63 – clearly bear the signature of the Social Democrats. The real reasons for the party’s inability to cash in on its actions are more of its own making.