Oskar Lafontaine

Last updated

Oskar Lafontaine
Oskar Lafontaine in 2017
Leader of The Left
In office
16 June 2007 15 May 2010
Servingwith Lothar Bisky
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded by Klaus Ernst
Federal Minister of Finance
In office
27 October 1998 18 March 1999
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
Preceded by Theodor Waigel
Succeeded by Hans Eichel
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
16 November 1995 12 March 1999
General Secretary Franz Müntefering
Ottmar Schreiner
Preceded by Rudolf Scharping
Succeeded by Gerhard Schröder
Minister President of Saarland
In office
9 April 1985 10 November 1998
Preceded by Werner Zeyer
Succeeded by Reinhard Klimmt
Mayor of Saarbrücken
In office
1976 9 April 1985
Preceded by Fritz Schuster
Succeeded by Hans-Jürgen Koebnick
Personal details
Born (1943-09-16) 16 September 1943 (age 75)
Saarlouis-Roden, Germany
Political party Social Democratic Party (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 who served in the government of Germany as Minister of Finance from 1998 to 1999. Previously he was Minister President of the state of Saarland from 1985 to 1998, and he was also Chairman of the Social Democratic Party from 1995 to 1999. After having won the German federal election, 1998 along with new Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, he resigned from all political offices, including his seat in the German Bundestag, only a half year later and positioned himself as a popular opponent of Schröder's policies in the tabloid press.


In the forefront of the federal election, 2005 and as a reaction to Schröder's Agenda 2010 social reforms, Lafontaine joined the newly founded party Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative in June 2005. Following the merger with the Party of Democratic Socialism in June 2007, he became co-chairman of The Left. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009, he announced his resignation from federal political functions in January 2010, citing health reasons. [1] Having been cured from it, he has instead been member of parliament for The Left in Saarland since September 2009 and leader of the opposition since May 2012.

Family and education

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 barium titanate crystals. 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

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

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

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 this strategy gave the SPD an 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

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/Formation of The Left party

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]


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 don't have to be poor, but they have to fight against poverty. [8]




  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). 2015-03-21. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
  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
  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 2008-12-02.
  8. Linkspartei: Der Charmeur und der Chef – Bücher – Feuilleton – FAZ.NET
Political offices
Preceded by
Fritz Schuster
Mayor of Saarbrücken
Succeeded by
Hans-Jürgen Koebnick (SPD)
Preceded by
Werner Zeyer (CDU)
Minister-President of Saarland
Succeeded by
Reinhard Klimmt (SPD)
Preceded by
Theodor Waigel (CSU)
German Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Hans Eichel (SPD)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Rudolf Scharping
Chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany
Succeeded by
Gerhard Schröder
Preceded by
New title
Co-Chairman of the Left Party
With Lothar Bisky
Succeeded by
Klaus Ernst & Gesine Lötzsch