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18 May 2022, 12:24
Benjamin Wehrmann

SPD wrestles with legacy of senior members' Russian fossil fuel lobbying

ARD / Clean Energy Wire / Süddeutsche Zeitung

The governing Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany grapples with the connections of some of its senior party members with Russian fossil fuel companies. Together with its coalition partners the Green Party and the Free Democrats (FDP), the party of chancellor Olaf Scholz decided to strip former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder of his right to an office in Germany’s parliament building and staff to fulfil duties expected of a former head of government, public broadcaster ARD reported. The Bundestag’s budget committee might strip Schröder of his privileges as early as this week, arguing that the Social Democrat who governed the country between 1998 and 2005 no longer uses the premises and personnel that he is legally entitled to and ceased to complete the “ongoing duties” resulting from his status as ex-chancellor, the article said. However, Schröder’s annual allowance and his right to personal security will not be touched by the decision. Schröder is considered a personal friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin and assumed various roles as a lobbyist for Russian energy firms soon after his time at the helm of Germany’s government ended. An initiative supported by the SPD leadership to kick the former chancellor out of the party so far has not yielded any results.

In a different case of Russian influence on German politics, the SPD state premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig, has come under fire over her role in the creation of a foundation aimed at supporting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which makes landfall in the north-eastern coastal state. Her state government announced it would suspend the controversial Climate and Environmental Protection Foundation that was set up with financial help from Russia’s Gazprom in early 2021 to shield the pipeline project from sanctions threatened by the U.S. administration. For years, Schwesig had supported Nord Stream 2, while her SPD predecessor, Erwin Sellering, acted as the foundation’s chairman. The foundation would now be dissolved “in an orderly process”. Schwesig, who had already called the foundation’s creation a “mistake,” promised the whole process would be carried out with due “transparency.” She insisted the foundation’s purpose had been “to further climate and environmental action” in the state. She said allegations that the foundation had been controlled by the Russian government are “outrageous speculation,” Süddeutsche Zeitung reported. However, an investigation committee in the state parliament has been tasked with reviewing the foundation’s origins and aims.

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