Jens Spahn was sitting in Schumpeter Hall at the German Institute for Economic Research. It was the day after “Super Sunday” elections, in which the right-wing Alternative for Germany dealt a blow to the mainstream parties, entering the parliaments in three states.
The hall is named after Austrian-born U.S. economist Joseph Schumpeter, who coined the term “creative destruction” in economics. Mr. Spahn, who was the youngest member of parliament when he was elected to the Bundestag in 2002, is at the center of just such a moment today.
Mr. Spahn, now 35, prefers to think his center-right Christian Democrats are on the verge of “constructive change” following their electoral setbacks. After more than a million immigrants flooded into Germany last year, many worry that Chancellor Angela Merkel and other conservative leaders have lost control. Mr. Spahn, however, sees the defeats as a fresh opportunity for conservatives.
At Schumpeter Hall, he listened as Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democrats spoke onstage. Mr. Schulz, who is president of the European Parliament, valiantly insisted the elections amounted to victory for his party, the junior coalition partner to Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union.
The voting heralded a new SPD era, Mr. Schulz claimed, even though Social Democrats ended up behind the far-right AfD in two states. The party did however hold on to Rhineland-Palatinate, due to the popularity of sitting premier, Malu Dreyer.
At his seat, Mr. Spahn smiled. When Mr. Schulz finished, he rushed onstage and countered: If these SPD election results serve as a run-up to a new era, then he was excited about what still lies ahead. Many members of the audience laughed loudly.