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Berlin (AFP) – Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder escaped humiliating expulsion from his party on Monday as the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) found his ties to Vladimir Putin did not break its rules.
Schroeder, 78, has come under increasing criticism since Russia invaded Ukraine in February for his continued friendship with Putin and ties to Russian energy companies.
The Hanover branch of the SPD, where his membership is registered, opened a hearing in July to discuss 17 motions from local and regional chapters against his continued party membership.
But the branch said in a statement on Monday that the former chancellor was “not guilty of a breach of party rules, as no breach can be proved against him”.
The decision can be appealed, but legal experts say there are big hurdles to expelling members.
Schroeder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, refused to turn his back on the Russian president despite the war in Ukraine.
His position has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party.
He has also been widely criticized for holding a number of lucrative positions at Russian energy giants, and it was only after much public pressure that Schroeder relinquished his seat on the board in May. of the Russian energy group Rosneft.
He also later announced that he would not join Gazprom’s supervisory board as originally planned.
In May, the German parliament removed some of the benefits Schroeder was entitled to as a former statesman, stripping him of an office and staff.
But Schroeder, who was Angela Merkel’s immediate predecessor, remained defiant and met Putin in Moscow in July.
‘Bad for our country’
In an interview after the visit, he claimed Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war – comments described as “disgusting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Schroeder also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is completed but blocked by the German government on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine.
Opposition MP Thorsten Frei, from the centre-right CDU party, said on Monday that the decision not to expel him was “bad for the SPD, but also bad for our whole country”.
“This decision is very surprising to me. And it’s also quite incredible considering what we’ve seen from Gerhard Schroeder over the past few weeks and months,” he told Die Welt television.
SPD leader Lars Klingbeil said the decision by the Hanover branch of the party was purely a legal decision and that Schroeder was “isolated” within the SPD because of his positions.
The German SPD has always championed close ties with Russia, born out of the “Ostpolitik” policy of rapprochement and dialogue with the then Soviet Union, devised by former SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt in the 1970s.
Senior SPD officials, including current chairman Frank-Walter Steinmeier – a former foreign minister – have come under intense scrutiny since Russia invaded Ukraine.
A poll for the daily Bild on Sunday put the SPD at just 19% – in third place behind the Conservatives at 27% and the Greens at 21%.
© 2022 AFP