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The Seeheimer Kreis is an official, internal grouping in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The group describes itself as "undogmatic and pragmatic", generally taking relatively liberal economic positions, and frequently to the right of the SPD (party) mainstream.
It was founded in September 1974. One of the prominent founding members is Gesine Schwan, a former SPD candidate for the German Presidency. The group is led by Petra Ernstberger, Garrelt Duin, and Johannes Kahrs. The Circle is named after their long-standing meeting place, Seeheim (Bergstraße) a short distance to the south of Frankfurt.
Even in the 1950s, a group of conservative or traditional members of the SPD met regularly in an informal group known as the Kanalarbeiter (Canal Workers). They were considered to be one of the most influential groups within the larger Social Democratic Party.
The most prominent members of the Canal Workers were Egon Franke and Annemarie Renger. Annemarie Renger's membership shows that the lineage of the national wing of the Social Democrats goes even further back in history, as Renger's former employer was Kurt Schumacher, who through his Doctoral Advisor Johann Plenge could claim a connection all the way to the Lensch-Cunow-Haenisch-Gruppe, established during the First World War.
Parallel to the development of the Canal Workers, starting in 1969 an additional conservative grouping within the SPD was initiated by Günther Metzger, known as the Metzger Circle, which soon developed in 1972 into the Arbeitskreis Linke Mitte (Centre Left Work Circle), which can be considered as the forerunner of today's Seeheimer Circle. In the course of the late 1960s leftward shift of the Jusos, the youth organization of the Social Democrats, the Left wing of the SPD increased in influence and numbers.
A meeting in the Dorint-Hotel in Lahnstein in December 1974 is considered to be the official founding of the Seeheimer, however even in 1973 a group of around 40 Social Democrats met at the invitation of Hans-Jochen Vogel to discuss a way to come out of the "theoretical and ideological defensive" posed by the left wing of the party. Other founding members include Richard Löwenthal and Gesine Schwan. Though the Seeheimer ended up not accomplishing their initially stated goal of serving as a provocative ideological counterweight within the Party, they experienced early successes in gaining influence in SPD staffing policy and in pushing through broader Social Democratic Party decisions. The early Seeheimers followed in the footsteps of the Canal Workers, whose motto was "nothing happens without us".
From 1978 to 1984, the group, which was also known as the Lahnsteiner Circle, met in the Lufthansa Training Center in Seeheim on the Bergstraße, the origin of the name "Seeheimer."
Between 1974 and 1982 Chancellor Helmut Schmidt included several Seeheimer in his Cabinet, who had supported him during the debates in the party about the industrial use of nuclear energy and the NATO Double-Track Decision. After the end of the Helmut Schmidt Era, the Kanalarbeiter, who had represented the interests of traditional, non-intellectual union workers, definitively merged with the Seeheimer Circle, which in contrast was considered to be "intellectual." During conflicts during the 1980s within the Social Democrats about the direction of the party, the Seeheimer Circle opposed the alliance between the Social Democrats and Alliance '90/The Greens. The Seeheimer also distinguished themselves during this period from other currents within the SPD by supporting reunification with East Germany as a political goal. After reunification with East Germany in 1990, the Seeheimer added two prominent Social Democrats from the former GDR to their ranks, Stephan Hilsberg and Markus Meckel. During the 1998-2005 chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder, the Seeheimer supported his changes to social services.
The Circle is led by Petra Ernstberger, Garrelt Duin, and Johannes Kahrs. Other leading members of the Seeheimer are Doris Barnett, Fritz-Rudolf Körper, Edgar Franke, Sport Committee Chairwoman Dagmar Freitag, Carsten Schneider, Rolf Schwanitz, Defense Committee Chairwoman Susanne Kastner, who belong to a group known as the Sprecherkreis. Members of the advisory board for the Seeheimer include SPD Party Leader Sigmar Gabriel, Ulla Schmidt, and Wolfgang Tiefensee.
Garrelt Duin, Member of the German Bundestag
Garrelt Duin studied Law and Theology, and practices law as an independent attorney. Before taking office in the German Bundestag in 2005, he served as a member of the European Parliament. Within the Social Democratic party, he is industrial speaker and economic speaker. Speaker Duin was the leader of the Social Democrats in Lower Saxony and is a member of the Board of Advisors for the German Public Radio station NDR. In the Social Democratic (working group??)for Technology and Economy, he focuses on strengthening the German industrial base, working against climate change, understanding the Internet and New Media, and last but not least, the intelligent combination of environmental, social, and economic policy.
Petra Ernstberger, Member of the German Bundestag
This Primary School Teacher moved into the German Bundestag in 1994. She taught at various community colleges as well as at the University of Bayreuth as instructor and research assistant. Since 2005, she has been in the leading circles of the Social Democratic Party as Parliamentary Director. She is also a member of the Ältestenrat, a council of German Members of the Bundestag who assist the President of the Bundestag with parliamentary procedure. She is also in the Ältestenrat Committee for Internal Affairs. She is also Chairwoman of the German-South Asian Parliamentary Group.
Johannes Kahrs, Member of the German Bundestag
Born in 1963 and an educated legal practitioner, Johannes Kahrs is also a reserve Lieutenant Colonel in the German Bundeswehr. He entered the German Bundestag in 1998 as a directly elected Member of the German Bundestag from Central Hamburg. He serves as spokesman of the Seeheimer, Commissioner for Gay and Lesbian Issues, Substitute Chairman of the German-Turkish Parliamentary Group, as well as member of the Enquete-Commission for "Internet and Digital Society" and the Budget Committee. In addition to his parliamentary postings, Mr. Kahrs is also active in many volunteer and community organizations, such as the Hamburg Youth Welfare Committee.
The Seeheimer Circle focuses on pragmatic solutions in social policy, financial policy, and economic policy. The party strives to align social welfare with financial possibilities, a commitment to give and take in social welfare, a reduction of national debt, the necessity of reforms through pragmatic handling, and an open minded relationship to globalization. Moreover, the Seeheimer Circle views demographic change as a central policy field and is ready to take social policy in directions which could lay outside of Social Democratic tradition. However, this readiness for innovation would not contradict the Party Program of the Social Democrats.
- Johannes Kahrs und Sandra Viehbeck (2005). "In der Mitte der Partei: Gründung, Geschichte und Wirken des Seeheimer Kreises (German)" (PDF). Die Seeheimer e.V., Berlin. Retrieved 2008-07-21.[dead link]
- Öfinger, Hans-Gerd (2008-03-12). "Political instability, growing trade union militancy and a shift to the left in Germany". International Marxist Tendency. Retrieved 2008-08-02.