Status: 06.02.2023 1:16 p.m
For Franziska Giffey, this election is all or nothing. The SPD politician is fighting for her power in Berlin – and at the same time for her political survival. But please be kind.
Franziska Giffey is standing in a shopping street. It’s already an election campaign in Berlin and that means for her: talk, talk, talk. Not from a stage but in direct contact. A woman tells her about the difficult situation for students. Wrapped up in a bright red coat, Giffey nods non-stop, listens, asks questions. The message: Here is one that cares and takes people’s concerns seriously. Many people have always believed that, possibly because that’s the way it is.
The 44-year-old native of Brandenburg is considered down-to-earth: her mother is an accountant and her father is a master mechanic. Giffey has a degree in administration. At some point she not only wanted to manage, but also wanted to make a difference, she once said. She went into politics.
The “Giffey Brand”
That was in Berlin-Neukölln. In the so-called social hotspot district, the SPD politician became city councilor for education in 2010 and quickly found her own style: proximity to the people and zero tolerance. Or also: yes to integration and equal opportunities, no to the headscarf in the civil service. Clear on the matter, friendly in tone – the “Giffey brand” was born. She repeatedly emphasized that she cares about the future of every single child. That resonated: one who actually cares.
It quickly went up for Giffey. In 2015 she became district mayor of Neukölln, and in 2018 she moved into the cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel as Federal Minister for Family Affairs. Giffey pushed laws that attracted attention simply because of their beautiful names: the “Good Day Care Law” or the “Strong Family Law” were among them.
Then came her plagiarism affair and with it the question: Did Giffey copy her doctoral thesis in 2010? After tough back and forth and a long silence, Giffey finally resigned from her ministerial office in May 2021 – and concentrated fully on becoming the governing mayor of Berlin.
The mistakes of Dr. Giffy
She never really explained how the plagiarism came about. Instead, she spoke of “mistakes” that she had made and for which she was responsible. The doctoral thesis is still a flaw in her biography, a dirty spot that doesn’t seem to fit her usual image at all.
But the affair hardly harmed her in Berlin: almost three quarters of the voters stated in 2021 that the revoking of their doctoral degree did not play a major role in their voting decision.
Election campaigner Giffey presents herself as down-to-earth and hands-on.
She can’t do anything about the election glitches
That’s not how Dr. Franziska Giffey but only Franziska Giffey the new Governing Mayor of Berlin. She took over a city that had been governed by SPD mayors for years. Klaus Wowereit was followed by Michael Müller and now Giffey. But she also took over a city that is functioning worse and worse: rent and property prices are rising rapidly, public administration regularly fails – and then the capital failed even to hold a proper election in September 2021. Super election chaos on super election day, Berlin made a fool of itself in front of everyone.
It’s not Giffey’s fault for any of this, but the electoral glitches from back then could cause her great grief now. Because the re-election that has now become necessary can backfire for them. In polls, your SPD is behind the CDU. And just ahead of the Greens.
SPD state association alienated with Giffey
If Giffey does not lead her SPD to victory again, it remains to be seen whether the comrades will continue to stand by her. For many in the more left-wing SPD state association, she is not left enough. Giffey stands for a middle course, she is pure pragmatism. For example, many Social Democrats want large housing companies in the capital to be nationalized. There is a successful referendum on this.
Giffey, however, has first set up a commission to examine whether the procedure would be constitutional. She herself could not reconcile with her conscience to work for expropriations, she also said. She didn’t win the hearts of the base with that. According to surveys, your personal approval ratings are falling.
“Nah,” says Giffey. If you vote for the CDU, you get the Greens
Back in the Berlin street election campaign. A man calls out to her: “Do you know what I’m going to vote for? The CDU!” Giffey nods, smiles, then asks in a soft voice if he knows who’s likely to move into City Hall then? “Wegner,” the man replies, meaning CDU top candidate Kai Wegner. “No,” says Giffey and answers himself: “Ms. Jarasch. If you vote for the CDU, the SPD will be weakened.”
Almost casually and with a friendly smile, she paints the specter of many Union supporters on the wall: The green top candidate Bettina Jarasch is currently still Giffey’s coalition partner in the red-green-red alliance. During the election campaign, she is not above herself for such tips at the expense of her current government partners. Giffey’s election arithmetic: If you want to prevent a green mayor, you have to vote for the SPD – it’s as simple as that. That too is a deeply pragmatic view.