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Germany: SPD expels former Berlin senator Thilo Sarrazin

July 31, 2020

An arbitration committee upheld the Social Democrats' decision to expel Sarrazin over Islamophobic rhetoric. The ruling marked the party's third attempt to oust him after almost a decade fighting in court.

SPD expels Thilo Sarrazin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) have finally managed to expel controversial politician turned author Thilo Sarrazin, who has published a series of books over the last decade bearing little resemblance to the party's stated positions. Sarrazin's books criticizing the lack of Muslim integration in Germany, or the European single currency the euro, or what he perceives as a lack of freedom of expression in modern Germany had long been a thorn in the struggling SPD's side, but levering him out of the party against his wishes had proven an arduous and slow process.

On Friday, an arbitration committee upheld a decision by the SPD to expel a former Berlin senator and author accused of spouting Islamophobic and racist rhetoric, following two former attempts and a nearly-decade-long legal battle. 

After a hearing lasting several hours, the Federal Arbitration Commission rejected former Berlin Finance Senator Thilo Sarrazin's appeal, ensuring that Sarrazin would no longer be a member of the SPD.

"The exclusion from the party is therefore effective," the commission said in a statement. The expulsion was intended to "protect the reputation and credibility of the SPD," it added.

"The chapter of Thilo Sarrazin is closed for us," SPD Secretary-General Lars Klingbeil told reporters in front of the party headquarters in Berlin. "He can no longer spread his racist, anti-Muslim theses under the cover of SPD membership."

Views 'incompatible with human rights'

The SPD initiated its last expulsion procedure in 2019, after Sarrazin published his 2018 book "Hostile Takeover: How Islam impairs progress and threatens society."

In 2018, Sarrazin wrote that the "religiously colored cultural otherness of the majority of Muslims" and their rising birth rates posed a threat to Germany's open society, democracy and prosperity. He also argued that the integration of Muslims was not possible, but rejected accusations of racism and Islamophobia. 

Thilo Sarrazin presenting his book "Hostile Takeover"
Thilo Sarrazin gives a presentation of his book 'Hostile Takeover — How Islam impairs progress and threatens society'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

The arbitration commission said it came to the conclusion that the demands made in the book, such as the demand to repatriate people without residential status by military means, were incompatible with basic human rights. 

It added that Sarrazin denied Muslims equal value and dignity, and if the author were to remain a member of the SPD, the party could give the impression that it offered space to members with right-wing populist views. 

Read more: What is the role of Germany's parliamentary opposition?

In January, the Berlin State Arbitration Commission confirmed in an appeal that the exclusion of Sarrazin was lawful — a ruling that was upheld this week on the national level. 

"From my point of view, the decision was already made before the hearing," Sarrazin said in response to the expulsion. "This was not an open, honest and fair trial."

Sarrazin previously said he would appeal the decision all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court, but to do so, according to the SPD, he would have to prove that there had been procedural errors leading to the previous rulings. 

Thilo Sarrazin court case against SPD expulsion
Thilo Sarrazin during court case against his expulsion from SPDImage: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

A long legal battle

The regional Berlin chapter initially wanted to expel him in 2009 after he spoke openly about the "production of headscarf girls." However, the arbitration commission found that there were no violations of party rules. 

A further expulsion attempt took place in 2011, after Sarrazin published the 2010 book "Germany Abolishes Itself," which also argued for greater restrictions on Muslim immigration to Germany. 

Sarrazin was also affiliated with right-wing circles, including the Freedom Party of Austria and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, even speaking to Germany's Bundestag at the invitation of the AfD.

In the third trial, the SPD wanted to proceed without a possible rejection. The party subsequently had a commission review Sarrazin's latest book, and sought three expert opinions to support its claim. "We have been working meticulously towards this day over the past months," said Klingbeil.

Sarrazin served as finance senator in Berlin from 2002 to 2009 and as a board member of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, in 2009 and 2010. Prior to that he worked in the civil service and with national rail company Deutsche Bahn.

Local politicians under attack

lc/msh (dpa, KNA)