- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

After clinging to power by winning a cliff-hanging election in September, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of the ruling coalition of the Social Democratic and Green parties, has enjoyed the shortest honeymoon in postwar German political history. The flip-flopping, bait-and-switch chancellor has nobody to blame but himself.
Mr. Schroeder successfully diverted the electorate's attention from Germany's rapidly deteriorating economy by waging what amounted to an anti-American campaign in which his government's justice minister was quoted comparing President Bush to Hitler. During the virulently anti-war election campaign, Mr. Schroeder ruled out any active German participation in a U.S. military attack on Iraq. Since then, in an effort to begin repairing the U.S.-German relationship that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld characterized as "poisoned," Mr. Schroeder committed to provide American forces unrestricted use of both German air space and U.S. military bases in Germany for a military campaign against Iraq. Following its recent conference, however, Green Party leaders announced that they opposed providing access in both cases if the United States attacked Iraq without a United Nations mandate.
The tension within the ruling coalition over Germany's policy regarding Iraq pales compared to the post-election problems facing Mr. Schroeder over the economy. With Germany's economy dipping toward recession and its unemployment rate reaching 10 percent, one of Mr. Schroeder's first orders of business was to break his campaign promise not to raise taxes. During the campaign he insisted that such an option would be "economically absurd."
Reaction to the tax flip-flop has been fierce. Germany's No. 1 song mocks the chancellor; and his office receives about a thousand shirts a day from irate constituents, telling him that his tax increases will rip the shirts off their backs. Meanwhile, corporate bankruptcies are at record levels; the budget deficit is expanding; Germany's biggest banks are in big trouble; and business confidence is plunging. Pressured by trade unions, which form his core constituency, Mr. Schroeder has proposed watered-down labor-market and welfare reforms that most economist believe are wholly inadequate to address Germany's long-term problems.
Mr. Schroeder's popularity has plummeted with unprecedented dispatch. One poll revealed that half the people who voted to retain him as chancellor in September now wish they hadn't. His party has also taken a major hit in the polls. Less than three months after the German electorate gave 38.5 percent of their votes to both the liberal Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) alliance, a recent poll shows support for Mr. Schroeder's SPD falling 11.5 percent to 27 percent while support for the conservatives has soared to 50 percent.
The disagreement between the Greens and Mr. Schroeder over the level of military cooperation with the United States threatens to dissolve the coalition. Even before then, Mr. Schroeder might be tossed overboard in an intraparty coup if the SPD loses crucial February elections in the states of Hessen and Lower Saxony, the chancellor's home base. Not surprisingly, there is talk of forming a "grand coalition" between the SPD and the CDU/CSU. In order to enact the needed economic reforms and to improve relations with the United States, a "grand coalition" following the chancellor's ouster would represent a big step forward. And a conservative government would be an even bigger step in the right direction.

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