Malu Dreyer’s successor: Who is Alexander Schweitzer?

Alexander Schweitzer will succeed the outgoing Prime Minister Malu Dreyer. The 2.06-meter-tall giant is considered a “close-to-the-people” type. His career is unlikely to end in Rhineland-Palatinate.

“What do they call you now?” the lady at the lectern wants to know, “Minister or Prime Minister?” The answer comes promptly: “Schweitzer!”

The scene is typical of him. Polite, almost a little embarrassed, the 2.06 meter giant stands politely, almost a little embarrassed, in the Mainz State Museum on this July afternoon and awards certificates to new sustainability ambassadors. This Alexander Schweitzer has been a fixture in the local SPD for years – he was head of the Juso, general secretary, parliamentary group leader, minister. And this Wednesday the 50-year-old lawyer is set to take the next step in his career: the state parliament should elect him as successor as Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate.

This afternoon in the museum is one of the last appointments that Schweitzer has as Minister for Labor, Social Affairs and Digital. The topic of continuing education is also part of his super ministry. In a certain sense, he then explains, this “shorter term of office” was also “a very personal further education as a minister” because “I also learned a lot myself”. And suddenly you feel it, the politician’s often praised ability: the gift of making people feel that he is there for them right now, just here, on this topic.

Three hours earlier, he had pulled off his first coup as designated head of government: the introduction of his successor. Dörte Schall, a Social Democrat from North Rhine-Westphalia, head of the social affairs department in Mönchengladbach. One from out of town, one who Schweitzer already knows from their days together in the Juso. One who is only committed to the new Prime Minister.

There is talk of the “Swiss Guard” in Mainz

That would be Alexander Schweitzer’s second gift: he is considered an excellent networker. Number three, he is also a strategic mind, number four, a good analyst. That is how party friends describe him, of which he seems to have quite a few. Schweitzer’s years of efforts for the party are paying off, in the power struggle for Dreyer’s successor it was his supporters who now carried him into office – the “Schweitzer Guard” is what people in Mainz’s government district talk about.

He once established his power base as Secretary General of the Rhineland-Palatinate SPD, which Kurt Beck made him in 2009 – the long-time Prime Minister is considered Schweitzer’s political mentor. Like Beck, Schweitzer grew up in the very south of the Palatinate, in Bad Bergzabern, just a stone’s throw from the French border.

“I had a very unusual childhood”

For the first six years of his life, however, Schweitzer mainly saw the Rhine: his father was a bargeman who sailed down the river to Rotterdam and back, and his mother and son went with him. “I had a very unusual childhood,” says Schweitzer in an interview. “Those were formative years.” Things were sometimes very rough on board, but he learned something back then: “You worked until the job was done.”

In 1989, when he was just 16 years old, he joined the SPD, became head of the Juso in the southern Palatinate, a member of the district council, and finally a member of the state parliament. That was in 2006, when Schweitzer inherited his mandate from Kurt Beck. Listening, being close to people, his rather baroque figure – the two are similar in many ways. When Schweitzer arrives at the State Museum for an appointment, he greets the head of his ministry’s department with a warm hug. With infinite patience, Schweitzer then poses for photos, smiles at every camera, shakes hands, and speaks words of encouragement. That, too, is politics. And perhaps also a reason why the traffic light coalition in Mainz is so much more “harmonious”, as Schweitzer says, than its Berlin counterpart.

Like Kurt Beck once did, Schweitzer also grounds himself at home with stories from practice. The former basketball player is the father of two sons and a daughter, and to this day he lives with his family in Bad Bergzabern, where his wife works as a teacher.

Beck praised pig’s noses, Schweitzer is vegan

Nevertheless, many things are different in the next generation of politicians. He wants to be present, says Schweitzer, and he sometimes lets himself be photographed sitting relaxed on the floor. And while Beck still praised his beloved pig’s nose, Schweitzer has been a vegan for eight years. It “started out of interest in the topic, as a personal experiment – and it did me good,” he says, of course not without the political assurance: “I don’t tell anyone what to eat.” But he likes to think outside the box, visited the Obama campaign in the USA in 2013, and recently posed again in a trench coat and with a subtle smile in front of the White House in Washington.

In the State Museum, Schweitzer now speaks of personal development and the joy of discovering new goals for himself. Of “the broad view, not the narrow one, that we need,” and of how important it is “to dare to look beyond what you thought was the only valid framework until just now.”

The biggest career step: Father of the country

Indeed, the man is about to take the biggest career step of his life, the leap he has been working towards for years: Prime Minister, Father of the State. The path took him through many stations: State Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, then Minister for Labour and Social Affairs in 2013, and just one year later, head of the SPD parliamentary group. For seven years, Schweitzer held the parliamentary group together for Malu Dreyer; his caustic speeches were feared by his political opponents, and his standing was excellent.

The faction became Schweitzer’s new power base, but a bitter power struggle broke out over Dreyer’s successor: Schweitzer became super minister in 2021, but he remained rather ineffective in office – while Dreyer brought in Mainz mayor Michael Ebling as interior minister in 2022. But Ebling acted rather aloof, the party stood behind Schweitzer – in the end, the “Schweitzer Guard” prevailed.

Now the new president faces major challenges: Rhineland-Palatinate has fallen far behind compared to other federal states, and in no other federal state did economic output fall as sharply at the start of the year as it did there. And the state still has by far the most indebted municipalities in the country. But the worst thing is that the crisis and the aftermath have left a deep loss of trust among the population.

As successor to Malu Dreyer: A new beginning in the Ahr Valley

Schweitzer has already announced that one of his first appointments will be in the Ahr Valley, and that reconstruction will be a central topic. Funds are still flowing slowly. Schweitzer’s second decision before taking office: he is transferring the Secretary of State for the Interior responsible for reconstruction to the Ministry of Health, and a new coordinator is to bring a breath of fresh air.

Schweitzer could make a real fresh start with what Malu Dreyer so stubbornly refused to do for three years: an apology for the Ahr Valley. He does not want to comment on this at the moment, but it would be something he could do. Regaining trust, setting the state on a new course – Schweitzer now has two years to do this, with the next state election in spring 2026. The traffic light coalition is currently miles away from having its own majority, even in Mainz polls.

Source: Stern

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