Oskar Lafontaine

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Oskar Lafontaine
2017-03-26 Oskar Lafontaine by Sandro Halank–3.jpg
Oskar Lafontaine in 2017
Leader of The Left
In office
16 June 2007 – 15 May 2010
Serving with Lothar Bisky
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byKlaus Ernst
Federal Minister of Finance
In office
27 October 1998 – 18 March 1999
ChancellorGerhard Schröder
Preceded byTheodor Waigel
Succeeded byHans Eichel
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
16 November 1995 – 12 March 1999
General SecretaryFranz Müntefering
Ottmar Schreiner
Preceded byRudolf Scharping
Succeeded byGerhard Schröder
Minister President of Saarland
In office
9 April 1985 – 10 November 1998
Preceded byWerner Zeyer
Succeeded byReinhard Klimmt
Mayor of Saarbrücken
In office
1976 – 9 April 1985
Preceded byFritz Schuster
Succeeded byHans-Jürgen Koebnick
Personal details
Born (1943-09-16) 16 September 1943 (age 77)
Saarlouis-Roden, Nazi Germany
NationalityGerman
Political partySocial Democratic (until 2005)
The Left
Spouse(s)Ingrid Bachert (1967–1982)
Margret Müller (1982–1988) (1 son)
Christa Müller (1993–2013) (1 son)
Sahra Wagenknecht (2014– )

Oskar Lafontaine (German pronunciation: [ˈlafɔntɛn]; born 16 September 1943) is a German politician. He served as Minister-President of the state of Saarland from 1985 to 1998, and was federal leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) from 1995 to 1999. He was the lead candidate for the SPD in the 1990 German federal election, but lost by a wide margin. He served as Minister of Finance under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder after the SPD's victory in the 1998 federal election, but resigned from both the ministry and Bundestag less than six months later, positioning himself as a popular opponent of Schröder's policies in the tabloid press.

In the lead-up to the 2005 federal election, as a reaction to Schröder's Agenda 2010 reforms, Lafontaine joined the newly-founded left-wing party Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative. Following a merger with the Party of Democratic Socialism in June 2007, he became co-chairman of The Left. He was the lead candidate for the Saarland branch of the party in the 2009 Saarland state election where it won over 20% of the vote. He announced his resignation from all federal political functions after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009.[1] He retained his position as a member of the Saarland legislature, and since May 2012 has been leader of the opposition in Saarland.

Family and education[edit]

Lafontaine was born in Saarlouis into a family of craftsmen. His father, Hans Lafontaine, was a professional baker and was killed serving in World War II. He spent his childhood living with his mother, Katharina (née Ferner), and his twin brother, Hans, in Dillingen.

He attended a Catholic episcopal boarding institution in Prüm and there was educated at the Regino-Gymnasium, a public school. He left school in 1962 and received a scholarship from Cusanuswerk, the scholarship body of the Catholic Church in Germany, to study physics at the universities of Bonn and Saarland. Lafontaine graduated in 1969; his thesis concerned the production of monocrystalline barium titanate. He worked for Versorgungs- und Verkehrsgesellschaft Saarbrücken until 1974, serving on its board from 1971.

Lafontaine has been married four times and has two sons by his second and third wives. In November 2011, Lafontaine officially presented fellow politician Sahra Wagenknecht as his new girlfriend, who is 26 years his junior.[2] Since December 22, 2014 they have been married.[3] He is a non-practising Catholic.[4]

Political rise[edit]

Lafontaine rose to prominence locally as mayor of Saarbrücken and became more widely known as a critic of chancellor Helmut Schmidt's support for the NATO plan to deploy Pershing II missiles in Germany. From 1985 to 1998 he served as Minister-President of the Saarland. In this position he struggled to preserve the industrial base of the state, which was based on steel production and coal mining with subsidies, and served as President of the Bundesrat in 1992/93.

Chancellor candidacy and assassination attempt[edit]

Lafontaine election poster, 1990

Lafontaine was the SPD's candidate for Chancellor in the German federal election of 1990. He faced nearly impossible odds. The election had been called two months after the reunification of Germany, and the incumbent government of Helmut Kohl was in a nearly unassailable position.

During the campaign he was attacked with a knife by a mentally deranged woman after a speech in Cologne. His carotid artery was slashed and he remained in a critical condition for several days.

Political comeback[edit]

At the "Mannheim convention" in 1995, he was elected chairman of the SPD in a surprise move, replacing Rudolf Scharping. He was mainly responsible for bringing the whole political weight of the SPD to bear against Kohl and his CDU party, rejecting bipartisan cooperation that had characterized German politics for many years. Lafontaine argued that any help given to Kohl would only lengthen his unavoidable demise.

After the SPD's unexpectedly clear victory at the polls in September 1998, he was appointed Federal Minister of Finance in the first government of Gerhard Schröder.

Minister of Finance[edit]

During his short tenure as Minister of Finance, Lafontaine was a main bogeyman of UK Eurosceptics. This was because, among other things, he had called for the prompt tax harmonisation of the European Union, which would have resulted in an increase in UK taxes. In 1998, English tabloid "The Sun" called Lafontaine "Europe's most dangerous man". On 11 March 1999, he resigned from all his official and party offices, claiming that "lack of cooperation" in the cabinet had become unbearable. Until the formation of the Left Party he was known for his attacks against the Schroeder government in the tabloid Bild-Zeitung, which is generally considered conservative.

Leaving the SPD and formation of The Left party[edit]

On 24 May 2005 Lafontaine left the SPD. After two weeks of speculation it was announced on 10 June that he would run as the lead candidate for The Left party (Die Linke), a coalition of the Labor and Social Justice Party (WASG), which was based in western Germany, and the Left Party.PDS, which was the successor to the ruling East German Socialist Unity Party (SED).[5] Lafontaine joined the WASG on 18 June 2005 and was selected to head their list for the 2005 Federal Election in North Rhine-Westphalia on the same day. Moreover, he also unsuccessfully contested the Saarbrücken constituency, which he had previously represented from 1990 to 2002. Nevertheless, the result of the Left party in the Saarland was by far the best in any of the federal states in the West of Germany.

In 2007, when the Left Party was formed in a merger between 'Left Party.PDS' and WASG, he became chairman alongside Lothar Bisky.

In May 2009, he declared that "Financial capitalism has failed. We need to democratize the economy. The workforce needs to have a far greater say in their companies than has been the case so far."[6]

Criticism[edit]

An article by Lafontaine on Erich Honecker, state and party leader of the German Democratic Republic and a fellow Saarlander, in the magazine Der Spiegel was criticised as laudatory by many observers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he tarnished his left-wing credentials with a plea for pro-business policies and a call for the reduction of the influx of Germans from Eastern Europe and asylum-seekers.

Lafontaine lives in a manor-like house, commonly known as the "palace of social justice" (Palast der sozialen Gerechtigkeit).[7] When asked about whether this could be in conflict with his socialist ideas, Lafontaine said politicians of the left do not have to be poor, but they have to fight against poverty.[8]

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

  • Hoell, Joachim: Oskar Lafontaine. Provokation und Politik. Eine Biografie. Dirk Verlag EK, Lehrach 2004, ISBN 3-9806151-8-9.
  • Lorenz, Robert: Oskar Lafontaine. Portrait eines Rätselhaften. Monsenstein und Vannerdat, Münster 2013, ISBN 978-3-86991-970-6.
  • Lorenz, Robert: Techniker der „kalten Fusion“. Das Führungspersonal der Linkspartei. In: Tim Spier u. a. (Hrsg.): Die Linkspartei. Zeitgemäße Idee oder Bündnis ohne Zukunft? VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-14941-7, S. 275–323.

Works[edit]

  • Das Lied vom Teilen. Die Debatte über Arbeit und politischen Neubeginn. Heyne, München 1989, ISBN 3-453-04001-5.
  • Keine Angst vor der Globalisierung. Wohlstand und Arbeit für alle. Dietz Verlag, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-8012-0265-8 (zusammen mit Christa Müller).
  • Das Herz schlägt links. Econ Verlag, München 1999, ISBN 3-430-15947-4.
  • Die Wut wächst. Politik braucht Prinzipien. Econ Verlag, München 2003, ISBN 3-548-36492-6.
  • Politik für alle. Streitschrift für eine gerechtere Gesellschaft. Econ Verlag, München 2005, ISBN 3-430-15949-0.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Rückzug als Linken-Chef". Spiegel Online (in German). 23 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
  2. ^ Lafontaine und Wagenknecht – Linke Liebe. sueddeutsche.de, 12 November 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2012.
  3. ^ "Oskar Lafontaine und Sahra Wagenknecht haben geheiratet". faz.net (in German). 21 March 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2015. Cite has empty unknown parameters: |day= and |month= (help)
  4. ^ Deutscher Bundestag: Lafontaine, Oskar Archived 27 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine, bundestag.de; accessed 16 September 2015.
  5. ^ "FT.com / Europe – New leftwing alliance to challenge SPD". Archived from the original on 1 December 2005. Retrieved 13 June 2005.
  6. ^ Interview with Left Party Leader Oskar Lafontaine: 'We Want to Overthrow Capitalism' – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International
  7. ^ "Palast der sozialen Gerechtigkeit" (in German). Archived from the original on 2 December 2008.
  8. ^ Linkspartei: Der Charmeur und der Chef – Bücher – Feuilleton – FAZ.NET

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Fritz Schuster
Mayor of Saarbrücken
1976–1985
Succeeded by
Hans-Jürgen Koebnick (SPD)
Preceded by
Werner Zeyer (CDU)
Minister-President of Saarland
1985–1998
Succeeded by
Reinhard Klimmt (SPD)
Preceded by
Theodor Waigel (CSU)
German Minister of Finance
1998–1999
Succeeded by
Hans Eichel (SPD)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Rudolf Scharping
Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
1995–1999
Succeeded by
Gerhard Schröder
Preceded by
New title
Co-Chairman of the Left Party
2007–2010
With Lothar Bisky
Succeeded by
Klaus Ernst & Gesine Lötzsch