Committed and combative

Committed and combative

Andrea Nahles: "Christianity as a compass" © Harald Oppitz (KNA)

"Woman, believer, leftist" – that's the title of her biography. Andrea Nahles has often stressed how important faith is to her. Now the Catholic is the first woman ever to be elected to the leadership of the SPD.

A special party conference elected the 47-year-old on Sunday in Wiesbaden with a vote of 66.35 percent to the first woman at the top in the almost 155-year party history. The Bundestag parliamentary group leader prevailed in a vote against Flensburg's mayor Simone Lange.

Realism without resentment as a compass for SPD

In her candidacy speech for SPD leader, parliamentary group leader Andrea Nahles called for "realism without resentment" in the fight against anti-Semitism. "This is our compass. That's why we can easily do without the nonsense about the Leitkultur," says Nahles. "Being free of resentment also sharply marks the difference between the SPD and the AfD," which is stirring things up and driving a wedge into people's minds and hearts.

At the same time, Nahles, referring to recent attacks by Muslims on Jews, stressed the need to insist on respect for the rules. However, this should not lead to a blanket aversion to Muslims: "Part of the concept of home – as I understand it – is that people feel at home, feel safe, but also that no one is excluded."

"Housewife or Chancellor"

As labor minister, Nahles' ministry was considered the busiest of the legislative period as of 2013. With a lot of pragmatism and tough wrangling over compromises, Nahles pushed through, among other things, retirement at 63 and the minimum wage. Now that she has taken over the leadership of the parliamentary group, another new chapter in her political career could begin on Sunday for the "Catholic girl from the countryside," as she once described herself.

She really does come from the provinces: Nahles grew up in a Catholic home as the daughter of a master bricklayer in the Eifel region of Germany. After graduating from high school – in her high school graduation newspaper she stated that she wanted to be a housewife or chancellor – she studied politics, philosophy and German in Bonn.

In parallel, Nahles rose in the SPD: As an 18-year-old, she joined the party, and in 1995 she became federal chairwoman of the Jusos. She has been a member of the SPD party executive since 1997, and a member of the executive committee since 2003. She first entered the Bundestag in 1998. Before becoming labor minister, she was SPD secretary general for four years.

"Being a Christian is a compass"

And she is Catholic and deeply rooted in her faith. Before her biography "Woman, Religious, Left" was published almost ten years ago, only a few of her party comrades knew that. "My compass for justice ies can be developed from my being a Christian," she explained in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA). And further: "Basically, my left-wing, social-democratic commitment arose from my involvement in the Catholic Church."

Nahles was an altar server and active in an ecumenical youth group. She is now a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK). For a long time, she regularly withdrew to a monastery for one week a year. A wooden cross from Maria Laach Abbey near her home village hangs in her Berlin office. Her faith shaped her as a person "long before" she joined the SPD, she emphasizes. However, she does not want to "peddle" it.

Also criticism against the church

Nevertheless, she makes no secret of the fact that her faith and the image of man derived from it play an important role in ethical ies in the Bundestag. For example, when the Bundestag voted on stricter proposals for embryo protection or on new regulations for euthanasia.

She is not uncritical of her church. For example, she criticized their treatment of homosexuals. Nahles, who is well connected in her party, also believes that abortion is not a sin, but that it must be preceded by a thorough decision of conscience.

As the new chairwoman, she faces huge challenges. After the historically poor election results in last year's Bundestag elections, the SPD is striving for renewal. Whether this succeeds now depends largely on her. In surveys, many show skepticism. In her candidacy speech in Wiesbaden, she called for more solidarity, for the weak in society, but also in her party. At the same time, Nahles, a Catholic, will certainly draw strength from her faith during the process: It is her "movens, her driving force, even in difficult times.".

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