Alexander Schweitzer: Kurt Beck’s foster son in the sights of the federal SPD

Alexander Schweitzer: Kurt Beck’s foster son in the sights of the federal SPD
Alexander Schweitzer: Kurt Beck’s foster son in the sights of the federal SPD

Malu Dreyer leaves behind a drained government in Mainz, Alexander Schweitzer is expected to restore the traffic light coalition. The federal SPD is also eyeing the 50-year-old. Who is the man?

When Alexander Schweitzer finally gets to speak, he has to take a deep breath. “I’m excited too,” the 50-year-old admits on Wednesday afternoon, and then adds: “This is a special day for me, an emotional day.”

Schweitzer has just been introduced by Malu Dreyer as the designated Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate, and even though he has been Minister of Labour and Social Affairs for three years – “those are very big shoes to fill, dear Malu,” he says modestly.

The picture is a bit strange. Schweitzer is a giant of 2.06 meters, “a man like a wall unit,” as a journalist recently called him, the picture of a real Palatinate bon vivant. And yet Alexander Schweitzer neither comes across as a steamroller like CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, nor as haughty as many others of his size.

On the contrary: down-to-earth and a clever analyst, that is how many in Rhineland-Palatinate would describe Schweitzer. He learned from the man who is his political mentor: Kurt Beck, legendary Prime Minister and a true father of the country for over 19 years. In 2013, Beck appointed Malu Dreyer as his successor, who is now handing the baton of power back to a Palatinate native who has far less in common with her than with her predecessor Beck.

Will the change now also occur in other regional associations?

The federal SPD is now also looking at this man. Schweitzer is well connected in Berlin and is likely to be important for the Chancellor’s party right from the start. If the generational change in Mainz succeeds, it could have a signal effect for other regional associations: Lower Saxony, for example – or Brandenburg. There, too, younger Social Democrats have long been waiting to finally succeed Prime Ministers Stephan Weil and Dietmar Woidke.

Alexander Schweitzer was born on September 17, 1973 in Landau, on the southern tip of the Palatinate, just a stone’s throw from the French border. The son of an inland waterway shipman spent the first six years of his life on his parents’ ship. After graduating from high school in Bad Bergzabern, he studied law in Mainz. A classic social democrat, if you will. He joined the SPD in 1989 – at the age of 16. From then on, Schweitzer grew into the party: Chairman of the Juso in the Palatinate, then head of various local and district associations, member of the district council on the Southern Wine Route.

In 2006, he inherited the state parliament mandate from Kurt Beck, who made him State Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Viticulture in 2009. After the state elections in 2011, Schweitzer had to give up government business in favor of the party because Kurt Beck wanted him as Secretary General – it was during this time that Schweitzer laid the foundation for his current career leap. Since Kurt Beck and Roger Lewentz, no one knows the heart and needs of the Rhineland-Palatinate SPD as well as the giant from the Palatinate: there is no local association he has not been to, no anniversary celebrant he has not congratulated.

But the man from the Palatinate should not be dismissed as a dull provincial: Schweitzer recently posed with a subtle smile in front of the White House in Washington or with a view of the TV tower in Berlin. The former basketball player is now a vegan, dog owner and father of two sons and a daughter; he also has his photo taken on the floor of his office or in the fan outfit of “his” football club 1. FC Kaiserslautern.

Alexander Schweitzer has held many positions

In 2013, Malu Dreyer appointed him her successor as the Minister of Social Affairs for Rhineland-Palatinate, and just one year later, she moved him straight to the next post: Schweitzer was supposed to hold the SPD faction together in the Mainz state parliament, he made it his power base and at the same time distinguished himself with his rhetorical clout in the debates at the podium. He wants to come across as a man of clear language, he is often described as a social democrat with backbone, well connected.

After the state elections in 2021, Schweitzer became super minister for labor, social affairs, transformation and digitization – and yet in the years that followed he had to watch the Dreyer government’s decline in power as if from the sidelines. The former lady of the heart of the Rhineland-Palatinate SPD, known for her radiant smile, forged the first traffic light coalition at the state level in 2016, which became the blueprint for the federal traffic light coalition. But since then, Rhineland-Palatinate has largely been at a standstill, and little remains of the former dynamic of optimism that catapulted the state to third place in the state comparison under Kurt Beck.

Rhineland-Palatinate has fallen far behind in comparison with other states, and in the SKL Happiness Atlas the state recently only ranked 12th. “The state seems to be losing touch with many of its neighboring states more and more,” the study concluded – even in 2023 it will still be struggling with the aftermath of the corona pandemic, the consequences of the Ahr Valley disaster and declining corporate investments. And the state still has by far the most indebted municipalities in the republic.

The Ahr Valley disaster is stuck to the traffic lights in Mainz

But the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley was the turning point: the failure of the state authorities, including and especially at the state level, in their task of saving human lives from the devastating flood wave, the 136 deaths at the end, the catastrophic management in the days after the flood and the still faltering aid for reconstruction – Malu Dreyer has seemed paralyzed since then, also because she has not yet been able to bring herself to apologize for the mistakes she has made.

In the European elections, but even more so in the local elections on June 9, the SPD also paid the price for this, with its nationwide share plummeting to 17.5 percent – a world away from its last election success of 35.7 percent in 2021. Alexander Schweitzer is unburdened by the flood disaster, he himself acted mainly as a listener in the valley – now, at the age of 50, he is taking on a herculean task: he must regain lost trust in the country, revive the SPD, which has been bled dry after more than 30 years in government, and give new impetus to the ailing government work.

It was not for nothing that Dreyer said on Wednesday that it would be good to have “a young man with new momentum”: Schweitzer was “the right man for this position” because he had “the ability to address people and inspire them.”

State SPD also repositions itself

The new man at the top certainly brings ambition, patience and a sense of power: Schweitzer prevailed in the bitter power struggle to succeed Dreyer against his fiercest rival – Interior Minister Michael Ebling. The former mayor of Mainz was actually Dreyer’s favorite to succeed him, but Ebling messed up: first because the SPD lost the mayor’s seat in Mainz after 74 years, then because Ebling, as Interior Minister, is often unable to convince people on the substance and has no power base within the party.

Schweitzer’s second rival, SPD parliamentary group leader Sabine Bätzing-Lichtenthäler, is now set to become state chairwoman, succeeding Roger Lewentz, who has been unlucky since his resignation as Interior Minister. The new team now has two years to breathe new life into the Rhineland-Palatinate SPD. The next state election is due to take place in spring 2026.

Source: Stern

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