- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

BERLIN German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday promised to tout his government's achievements in foreign and domestic policy when voters decide this fall whether to award him another four-year term at the helm of Europe's wealthiest nation.
Speaking to a group of American reporters at the chancellery in central Berlin, Mr. Schroeder said the coalition government of his Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Greens had lifted the "stalemate" that existed in German politics under the previous center-right government.
"We are self-confident without being self-satisfied," Mr. Schroeder said. "We have made progress in important areas."
At the same time, Mr. Schroeder cautions that the year could bring trans-Atlantic friction if Europe and the United States do not hammer out a common long-term strategy for rebuilding Afghanistan.
The chancellor spoke days after his conservative opponents settled on Edmund Stoiber the governor of Bavaria and head of the Christian Social Union as their choice to challenge him in elections Sept. 22.
Mr. Stoiber clinched the title on Friday when Angela Merkel, the head of the nation's other conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, bowed out of the race.
With Mr. Stoiber's promise to hammer away at Mr. Schroeder's failure to secure a solid economic recovery, the Bavarian's coronation as the conservative standard-bearer in recent days has unleashed a wave of enthusiasm among German pundits.
"The campaign will be exciting," the Frankfurter Allegmeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper said on Sunday.
Mr. Schroeder in 1998 toppled Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a Christian Democrat and architect of German reunification.
After getting off to a shaky start, Mr. Schroeder's coalition managed to win approval of major economic reform legislation that eluded Mr. Kohl.
The red-green government has fashioned a more business-friendly tax system while partially privatizing Germany's generous pension system, Mr. Schroeder said. It also has reformed the nation's restrictive citizenship law and approved same-sex civil unions.
The chancellor touted his own success in getting his Green partners, traditionally ardent pacifists, to approve military action against Yugoslavia over Kosovo in 1999 and in Afghanistan last year.
"It was not easy domestically to get that done," Mr. Schroeder said. "It was a historic break with the past."
However, economic weakness has complicated Mr. Schroeder's bid for a second term. He said in 1998 that he would not deserve re-election if unemployment did not dip under 3.5 million. It stands now at 3.8 million and is likely to rise this year.
Opinion polls now show Mr. Schroeder's Social Democrats a few points behind the conservatives. Surveys also suggest that the Greens might not reach the 5 percent threshold necessary for representation in parliament.
Still, Mr. Schroeder has a record of clever politicking that has brought him victory in the past. Yesterday, his government outlined a plan to subsidize lower-wage workers, a move it said could create as many as 30,000 new jobs quickly.
Also, Mr. Stoiber may prove to be a target of criticism because he hails from the southern state of Bavaria, a region that many northern Germans, like Mr. Schroeder, often ridicule for its populist conservatism and country-bumpkin image.
"Sometimes one hears things out of the Bavarian beer tents that one cannot understand," Mr. Schroeder said yesterday.
On the anti-terror war, Mr. Schroeder stressed that European and American policies must promote the creation of a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, and he urged the Bush administration to continue its close consultation with allies.
"It will be decisive that people around the world see Afghanistan as a successful country," Mr. Schroeder said. "Much depends on what we can achieve in the way of political and economic development."

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