Kurt Beck is set to become the third chairman of the Social Democrats within only half a year. The party needs continuity, and that's what he'll give it, the 57-year old said.
Beck plans to steer the SPD's fortunes for quite some time
"It is certainly good if we have a phase of continuity in the party leadership," designated Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairman Beck said on Monday on ZDF television. "I want to do things in such a way that a change of personnel isn't already in order within a few years."
Beck, who is also the premier of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, rebuffed speculation that his time as SPD chairman would only be transitional. As long as he remained healthy, he said, he would continue to make his contribution.
"Transitional chairman has been said of some -- across all parties -- also of one who came from Mainz and then governed as chancellor for a long time," Beck told the Mainz paper Allgemei n e Zeitu n g, in reference to Helmut Kohl who was Germany's chancellor for 16 years .
Beck left open whether he would one day take a shot at the chancellorship.
"On principle, it's always the case that the party chairman has the first choice," he pointed out. On Tuesday, he said the question would be decided in spring 2009, half a year before the next general election.
A survey carried out by Emnid pollsters for N24 news station on Monday suggested that the change of personnel hurt the SPD. Forty-six percent of those questioned said Matthias Platzeck's resignation as SPD chairman damaged the party, while 34 percent thought the change to Kurt Beck was good for the Social Democrats.
Merkel and SPD chairman Matthias Platzeck signed the coalition agreement on Nov. 18
Among SPD members, 52 percent assessed the changes negatively, and only 29 percent said the move would benefit the party. In a direct election, 46 percent of those polled said they would vote for Merkel, and 39 percent said they would choose Beck.
Bou n d to gra n d coalitio n
Beck said that as party chairman he would adhere to the status quo, that is, the ruling grand coalition of SPD and Chancellor Angel Merkel's Christian Union bloc.
"I was part of drafting the coalition agreement, and I'm committed to it," he said. Merkel and Beck had agreed to meet personally after Easter, the premier's spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Beck said the SPD needed to be open to coalitions with other parties. He said it was "generally worthwhile to work on coalition alternatives." At the same time, he said the Social Democrats didn't have many commonalities with the free market liberal Free Democrats, the largest opposition party. He also ruled out forming a coalition with the Left Party after the next general election. That leaves only the Green party, the SPD's junior partner in the previous government.
The SPD executive nominated Beck party chairman on Monday. Party delegates are expected to confirm his nomination at an extraordinary party conference in Berlin on May 14. The executive nominated Jens Bullerjahn, SPD parliamentary group leader in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, to be Beck's deputy.
Crucial mome n t
Beck assumes the chairmanship of the SPD just as the grand coalition has started working on reforming the healthcare system, tax laws and labor policies. Beck said on Monday in ZDF that further reforms to the social welfare system were overdue. As party chairman, he would make sure the changes were socially fair.
Platzeck's doctor told him he needed a change
Matthias Platzeck unexpectedly announced his resignation on Monday. He said his doctor had advised him to take such a step after he suffered from severe health problems since assuming the SPD leadership on top of his responsibilities as premier of the state of Brandenburg five months ago.
In late October, Platzeck had taken the place of Franz Müntefering, now labor minister, as SPD chairman. Müntefering vacated the post in the midst of coalition talks after loosing an inner-party feud over personnel, sending the party into crisis. With the election of Platzeck in mid-November, the SPD was hopeful it could make a new start. Then too, Beck had been a candidate for the party chairman, but he stepped aside for Platzeck.