The comrades are united externally, but far from aligned internally. The recently unusually clear chancellor has shaken up the ranks of the SPD and has sometimes irritated people with his latest statements.

Suddenly Olaf Scholz starts a duel with Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, forces a minimum wage debate on his party via a Stern interview and calls on the Social Democrats to sweat in the budget melee – so that the unpopular Liberals don’t develop fantasies of escape. Wanted, everywhere: a common stance from the SPD.

There are now many small fires blazing in the party – all of which have the potential to become an uncontrolled conflagration. Now of all times, when the European and three state elections are coming up in the east of the republic. “The SPD will definitely not go along with this austerity program,” warns Bochum Bundestag member Axel Schäfer, one of the most experienced comrades in the parliamentary group, in the stern. “We have to defend ourselves against the constant taunts from the liberals.” Not only he has the faxes, many others do too.

What’s going on there?

In the SPD, they are doing their best to soften up the iron liberals on the debt brake. A working group has even been set up in the parliamentary group to collect ideas on how the tiresome “future brake” can be reformed. The Social Democrats are already constantly calling for the instrument to be suspended repeatedly or at least for a small reform, since the many challenges cannot be solved with less money – as the FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner envisages for the 2025 budget.

It’s just a shame that he enjoys the backing of the Chancellor. Not?

“The finance minister gave the departments limits. That was agreed upon with me,” emphasized Scholz in the stern interview. SPD-led ministries in particular had reported additional spending, even though there was already a billion-euro gap in the budget of up to 30 billion euros. So get to the debt brake? “We shouldn’t make life too easy for ourselves,” says Scholz. “Now it’s time to sweat.”

Some comrades are demonstratively downplaying Scholz’s positioning (behind the finance minister). As an expected statement. The negotiations on the budget are still at the very beginning. Especially since the Chancellor has to keep everyone on board. Subtext: Also the FDP, which has already flirted with an accident.

Others wonder which side the Chancellor is actually on. In any case, there is great dissatisfaction with the FDP. At the parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich is said to have been angry and said that they would no longer put up with the liberal quarrels. The trigger was the pension package II, which was actually supposed to be decided in the cabinet – but was blocked by the FDP because of the high spending requests of the ministries. Nevertheless, white smoke is still expected to rise in May.

“I would like to see a release from the Chancellor,” says SPD MP Schäfer.

Economic politician Sebastian Roloff, who is a member of the party executive committee, expressed himself less drastically but just as clearly. “I’m slowly losing the imagination to see how one can set up a sensible budget under the current circumstances,” Roloff told Stern. It would be fatal to cut costs now, for example, in investments, integration measures and consulates. “On the contrary: this country urgently needs investments.”

Standing still, eyes straight out – that’s how it goes: Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is full of energy and is setting the direction to make Germany “war-ready” again. In his opinion, this also includes a return to a conscription model in order to address the shortage of personnel in the Bundeswehr: the number of troops is expected to increase from the current 182,000 to 203,000 soldiers by 2031. From what we know, a huge challenge.

But the Chancellor is stepping on the brakes and downplaying Pistorius’ plans, which are currently being developed in the Bendler Block, even before they are presented. And basically also the Defense Minister himself, who is considered a reserve chancellor because of his popularity ratings. During a visit to Stockholm, Scholz declared the shortage of personnel to be a “manageable task” and indicated what he thinks about the obligation to do military service: little. He apparently relies on a voluntary model.

Is there an open conflict brewing? Scholz also basically rejected Pistorius’s demand to exclude defense spending from the debt brake. See above. The Chancellor also warned his ministers to restrain themselves in their spending wishes. Pistorius is demanding an increase of 6.5 billion euros for his budget, not least because the 100 billion euro special pot will soon be exhausted.

Several comrades see a new special fund or new debt as the only way to simultaneously maintain aid to Ukraine and increase the defense budget without making irresponsible savings in other areas (such as social and domestic policy). Only populists would benefit from this.

Even when it comes to the issue of the minimum wage, which has been the Social Democrats’ pride and joy since its introduction in 2015, conflict lines become visible. It is difficult to interpret the different signals from the party in any other way.

Scholz had called for a gradual increase from initially 14 euros to 15 euros and accused the Minimum Wage Commission of “breaking a taboo” because it had not made a consensual decision on the last recommendation. The initiative was generally well received by the SPD, as an important signal to its own voters. But he also forced a debate on the comrades. The Chancellor had apparently taken the party completely by surprise with his initiative.

Secretary General Kevin Kühnert promptly said that the Commission was and would remain the “predestined place” for the further development of the minimum wage. Co-party leader Lars Klingbeil also emphasized that the committee should not be fundamentally questioned, but also spoke out in favor of an increase – which “could only be 14 euros”.

Scholz offers the opposition (and the FDP) a target. The Union accuses the Chancellor of breaking his word because he has backed away from his promise that the political increase in the minimum wage should obviously not be a one-off event. Finance Minister Lindner also brusquely rejected the proposal: It was legitimate for the Chancellor to be active as an election campaigner. “The coalition agreement clearly states that wage determination is not a matter for the parties,” he said.

High-ranking Social Democrats, be it parliamentary group manager Katja Mast or Labor Minister Heil, are therefore using the new CDU deputy Karl-Josef Laumann as an involuntary key witness as to who is actually questioning the minimum wage commission: “The minimum wage commission has had its day,” said the so-called social conscience of the Christian Democrats. However, already in the summer of last year. Nevertheless, the sentence is now being brought out again and fed into the current debate – as if the comrades had agreed on a language regulation to distract from the sensitive debate.

Not all comrades can relate to the “economic turnaround” that Christian Lindner is calling for up and down. The SPD has even presented its own ten-point plan. Unfortunately, it was lost without a sound in all the excitement surrounding Mützenich’s consideration of how the Ukraine war could be frozen in the future.

The Chancellor also wants to reduce bureaucracy, recruit skilled workers and invest in digitalization – just as his party executive has written down in the ten-point plan. Okay, as we all know, the matter of the debt brake is difficult. However, you don’t get the impression that the Chancellor is in a terrible hurry. His message is: Keep it going, don’t let it go astray. He believes the location shouldn’t be disparaged; the past two years have been “turnaround years under the most difficult conditions.” And no “lost” years, as BDI boss Siegfried Russwurm complained.

Even after the drastic increase in US punitive tariffs on electric cars from China, the Chancellor was particularly cautious and skeptical about EU tariffs. Instead, he emphasized the “mutual exchange” between Brussels and Beijing.

Co-party leader Klingbeil is much more alarmed. In the podcast “Apocalypse and Filter Coffee” he warned that the Europeans should not be the stupid ones in the end – and called for a counter-reaction, even though he didn’t like this approach. But: “We can’t stand there and watch as the others throw stones in our way or set up hurdles and we are somehow silent and say: We allow all of this.” We also have a duty to “position ourselves very strongly.” He is now expecting proposals from EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen within a very short time.

But he would certainly be happy if the Chancellor spoke plainly here.