Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Schröder Saga

So it's official: Gerhard Schröder will not be part of the next German government.

The road from his extraordinary TV performance on election eve to him standing down is certain to rank among the classics of politics - beyond the borders of Germany.

There is no doubt that he was an excellent campaigner - whether he in retrospect will be seen as a good chancellor is a somewhat more open question.

He defeated Helmut Kohl and the CDU in the 1998 election with the explicit promise that not much would be different, but that unemployment would definitely come down. He and Oskar Lafontaine launched their slogan of the "Neue Mitte" - the new centre ground.

Well, it did not take long for the relationship between Schröder and Lafontaine to break down. The later resigned from his position as Minister of Finance. Schröder was left to sail on his own by the winds he could find.

Facing the 2002 election he was heading for defeat. Unemployment certainly had not come down. But suddenly he was saved by the combination of his campaigning skills and the war drums over Iraq in Washington. By the thinnest of margins, his "peace" message saved his position at the helm of the redgreen coalition.

But by know it was obvious that the economic reform issues simply couldn't be ignored any longer. Business as usual was the same as the business of decline.

That's when Agenda 2010 of some economic reforms was born. Objectively speaking there is no doubt that it was too little and too late, but for an SPD electorate that had been fed a rather different message it was much too much and much too fast.

So the party rebelled, divided and disappeated under his feet, culminating in the electoral defeat in Nordrhein-Westfalen late spring.

Schröder could do little but saying that he could no longer govern. The electorate was deserting his party, and sections of his party was deserting him. It was all heading South...

The election campaign in September brough back a swinging Schröder forgetting most things about reforms, drifting decisively leftwards and placing himself in virulent opposition to most ideas about more profound and sensible reforms in Germany.

It was tactically as masterful as it was strategically disastrous.

On election eve, he saw that he had avoided the worst for the SPD, and that he had prevented the best for the CDU.

He was jubilant in the extreme, become intoxicated with himself, overplayed his hand and ended up with humiliating defeat.

I think the old Greeks had a word for it...