With the first nationwide party conference, the new Sahra Wagenknecht alliance gained momentum for the European and state elections this year. But some questions remain.
At the end, Sahra Wagenknecht stood on stage again in her signal red costume, cheered by almost 400 members of her new party. “You did a great job today, it really went fantastically,” shouted the 54-year-old in the former Berlin Kosmos cinema. In less than twelve hours, the new Sahra Wagenknecht alliance had approved the founder’s line at the first nationwide party conference, elected the extended board, and confirmed the candidates and program for the European elections. “If we start like this, it will be something,” said Wagenknecht.
What BSW, which was founded at the beginning of January, wants is now clearer. It remains unclear how and with whom Wagenknecht wants to implement this. Five points that stood out at the party conference on Saturday:
1. Longing for peace and the welfare state of the 1980s
“We are currently in such a situation where peace is very, very important, and I would do anything for that,” said BSW member Ingrid Volz on Saturday morning as she stood in line in front of the Kosmos. She was born in 1939 and had never been in a party until now. “At the moment the situation for me is so hopeless, so risky and dangerous that I think something has to be done.”
That was the one common thread of the day: Even on the stage of the party congress, nothing was expressed as often as the demand for peace, for negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, and for less arms spending.
The other central point is the strong welfare state: higher minimum wages, higher pensions, better unemployment benefits, better clinics, better education. This attracts people like Anja Titze, who also took part in the party conference. “We have massive cuts in the social sector, which is affecting people,” said Titze. “We hope that there will finally be a real opposition in the country.” She hopes for a new beginning.
2. Wagenknecht has “big plans for our country”
The hopes of BSW supporters are huge and Wagenknecht encourages them: “We have big plans for our country and for the people who have great expectations of us,” she said at the end of her speech. Wagenknecht again launched sharp attacks against the traffic light coalition. This is “the stupidest government in Europe,” she repeated. The traffic lights are incapable and have taken off, trapped in a Berlin-Mitte bubble. Because of the arms deliveries to Ukraine, Wagenknecht spoke of “inhumane politics” and, with a view to freedom of expression, of “overreaching political authoritarianism.”
3. Differentiation from the AfD – and from all other parties
Wagenknecht’s message: The government can’t do it – but the opposition certainly can’t. Her former party, the Left, which was hardly mentioned, came off best. Wagenknecht said of CDU leader Friedrich Merz that he would “certainly not be the lesser evil” in the Chancellery. And the AfD stands for record spending on armaments.
BSW General Secretary Christian Leye also dedicated a large part of his speech to demarcating himself from the AfD. This feeds on people’s despair, but does nothing for them, especially not for those with low incomes. People with incomes of 300,000 euros or more would benefit most from the AfD program. “This is not an anti-establishment party.”
This is important to the BSW because there are overlaps with the AfD when it comes to positions critical of the US and NATO, the demand for cheap energy imports from Russia and the strict limitation of migration. Oskar Lafontaine, husband of Sahra Wagenknecht and former leader of both the SPD and the Left, complained that his wife’s new party was supposed to be “open to the law.” In fact, there is a gap in the party system – only the BSW is a real peace party and the party for better wages.
Wagenknecht has already ruled out coalitions with the AfD. At the same time, she has repeatedly said that the BSW would like to participate in government, for example after the state elections in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg in the fall. The only question is with whom. The BSW sees the latest Sunday trend from the Insa institute for “Bild” with around 1,200 respondents at seven percent nationwide.
4. Some substantive positions do not add up
Little was heard at the party conference about concrete solutions to the many problems complained about. An example: Wagenknecht calls for a pension system like in Austria, where people receive significantly more pensions earlier. However, employees and employers there also pay in much more – the contribution rate is 22.8 percent, compared to 18.6 percent in Germany. For Germany, the difference corresponds to a double-digit billion amount, half of which would have to come from employees. Less net from gross. Financing issues played practically no role at the BSW, apart from the blanket demand that large corporations be burdened.
The adopted Europe program with the title “An independent Europe of sovereign democracies – peaceful and just” and the thesis: “The EU in its current constitution is damaging the European idea” also has inconsistencies. The thrust is fewer EU requirements and, if necessary, “non-implementation of EU requirements at national level if they run counter to economic reason, social justice, peace, democracy and freedom of expression”.
From the perspective of Europe expert Guntram Wolff from the German Council on Foreign Relations, this would shake the foundations of the community: “If current law is no longer implemented everywhere, it would destroy the internal market and mean immense damage to the German economy.”
5. Without the founder (and her husband) everything would be nothing
At the party conference, the BSW’s extended leadership team presented themselves for the first time, including the former left-wing politician Fabio De Masi, who also heads the European list. There are many former leftists and SPD members, there are entrepreneurs, trade unionists, nurses, police officers, theologians, city dwellers and villagers, as Wagenknecht said. By the way, the publicist Michael Lüders achieved some of the best voting results. Nevertheless, Wagenknecht and Lafontaine attracted almost all the attention. One thing is clear: this project stands or falls with the founder.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.