Nancy Faeser and the “Röttgen trap”: The comparison is incorrect – in part

Does Nancy Faeser fall into the “Röttgen trap”? Other challenges would arise for the Federal Minister of the Interior if she were to lead the Hesse SPD in the state election campaign.

You are always smarter in hindsight. “I made a mistake there,” admitted Norbert Röttgen years later one. “Yes, that was a very big mistake,” agreed Horst Seehofer, who, however, remarkably read the riot act to his CDU colleague shortly after the debacle: the detailed error analysis, which the then CSU chairman employed in front of the camera, was no longer part of the actual interview. “You can send all that,” Seehofer said. And ZDF took him at his word.

Now that was all a long time ago, but the state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2012 are again being used as evidence of how devastating vagueness can be in an election campaign.

Röttgen, then Federal Environment Minister and CDU top candidate, had not wanted to decide whether, in the event of defeat, he would move to Düsseldorf as opposition leader or remain as Minister in Berlin. After the historic electoral defeat, he chose Berlin. Shortly thereafter, he was kicked out of the cabinet by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“There were many reasons for that,” Seehofer knew how to explain the fiasco, “for example, that you didn’t fully decide in favor of this country.”

Since then, there has been talk of the “Röttgen trap” when politicians refuse to make a clear commitment to their career path. Armin Laschet probably had one too Return ticket to the Minister’s Office flirted with, should he end up on the opposition bench instead of in the Chancellery. In the end he put everything on one card, but in vain. And Nancy Faeser?

A fallback option approved by the chancellor?

The Federal Minister of the Interior will probably be the top candidate of the Hessian SPD in the state elections in October. This Friday, the Social Democrat wants to explain her plans at the traditional “Hessen Summit” and she is counting on her candidacy. The SPD state chairman is the only promising candidate. Especially since time is of the essence: the competition has long since named its leaders.

Faeser hasn’t explained her intentions for a long time either, but the risk of the “Röttgen trap” does not seem to threaten her, at least not with regard to her political future: Even in the event of a top candidate, she will remain Federal Minister of the Interior for the time being, and she should take care of that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) have informed and can probably stay in Berlin in the event of a defeat. That reported the “Southgerman newspaper”.

Röttgen did not have the allegedly approved fallback option at the time, who – another difference – had far less experience in state politics. Faeser has been active in local and state politics since 1996, sat in the Wiesbaden state parliament for 18 years, became chairwoman of the Hessian SPD in 2019 and was the head of the parliamentary group for around two years until Scholz made her the first woman to head the Federal Ministry of the Interior in Berlin in December 2021 .

Before a top candidate Faeser other challenges would arise.

An election victory for the SPD is not certain, in the last “hr Hessentrend” the party was five percentage points behind the CDU and level with the Greens. That means: election campaigns, and not too little – which Faeser may not be able to do in a possible double role, should operations in its Federal Ministry of the Interior, with around 85,000 employees, not suffer as a result.

“Being a Federal Minister of the Interior is not a part-time job and a top candidate takes a lot of time,” complained Left party leader Martin Schirdewan. Internal security is “not a part-time job”, noted CDU General Secretary Mario Czaja. The Greens and FDP, the coalition partners in Berlin, are also critical of Faeser’s possible dual role: “A state election campaign as a top candidate demands the whole person, just like the office of Federal Minister of the Interior – especially in these times,” said Green Group Vice Konstantin von Notz. For the FDP party vice president Wolfgang Kubicki, the interior ministry is “not a suitable campaign platform in these serious times.”

However, Röttgen also had to listen to the fact that the state balancing act inevitably leads to neglect and mistakes in other tasks, and that a ministerial post is practically incompatible with the top candidate – not least from our own ranks.

A state election can only be won by a candidate “who is completely committed to the cause,” said Joachim Pfeiffer, spokesman for economic policy for the Union faction at the time. Thomas Oppermann, SPD parliamentary group manager at the time, complained: “We cannot afford an environment minister on call: Röttgen has been delaying the energy transition for a year.”

Nancy Faeser has a lot to do

There is no shortage of tasks for Faeser in the ministry. She is responsible for internal security, the fight against cybercrime, civil and constitutional protection, and migration. Faeser leads an agency that is always on the alert.

After the “Reich Citizens” raid is a Gun law debate flared up in the course of the Ukraine war Discussion about the accommodation of refugeesfollowing a knife attack by a stateless criminal to deport criminals and it is about cyber security in Germany according to experts not well ordered. In addition, she plans according to their own statementsto make Germany a modern immigration country – with simplifications for skilled workers and a reform of nationality law.

So the mountain of work is great, but Faeser apparently still has energy for a state election campaign – this feeling would probably also come from her candidacy.

State elections in Hesse: Nancy Faeser and the "Röttgen trap": The comparison lags - partly

The chancellor and Faeser seem to think the risk is worth it, and there are a number of things that speak in favor of their candidacy. She could start the election campaign with an office bonus, she is well known in the country and well connected – also in other parties. Together with the FDP, she had triggered a “big setback for the state government” (Faeser) when financing the Corona emergency aid had to be reorganized. Should the election result in Hesse turn out to be close, this connectivity could be an advantage in possible coalition negotiations.

And if it doesn’t work? There would also be other comparisons than with Röttgen. For example with Manfred Kanther, a predecessor of Faeser in the Federal Ministry of the Interior (1993 to 1998). Kanther campaigned for the CDU in the Hessian election campaign in 1995 and also ruled out returning to state politics in the event of a defeat. The Christian Democrats were indeed almost the strongest force, but a red-green majority prevented his entry into the state chancellery. Instead of prime minister, he remained federal interior minister for three years.

Sources: “Southgerman newspaper”, “Daily Mirror”, “Frankfurter Rundschau”, “time online”, Deutschlandfunk, Hessen show, “Handelsblatt”, “”, nv, German wave

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