- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping's head was the latest to roll last week, as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder made another desperate attempt to keep his power base just over two months ahead of federal elections. Not that Mr. Scharping, whose personal and financial scandals have kept the media amused for quite some time, deserved any better. But the latest embarrassment involving the defense minister, a report in Stern magazine that he illegally pocketed $72,000 in royalties for his memoirs and speaking engagements, was certainly not the sole cause for the chancellor's decision to fire him. The chancellor is five points behind his conservative Bavarian opponent, Edmund Stoiber, in the polls, and he clearly wants to get rid of anything and anyone who might undercut his already faltering re-election bid.

Mr. Scharping is the eighth minister to be fired or resign on Mr. Schroeder's four-year watch. And it's not just ministers that Mr. Schroeder has edged out. On Tuesday, the telephone giant Deutsche Telekom AG chief executive Ron Sommers finally bowed to pressure from Mr. Schroeder to resign after his company's stock value plunged.

Mr. Schroeder's poor choices have been made at the end of a string of bad luck. His attempted bailouts of two major German companies also failed when the construction company Philip Holzmann AG and the engineering company Babcock Boersig AG both went bankrupt in the last few months. Adding to his woes, though he had campaigned in 1998 on a platform of cutting joblessness, unemployment has now climbed to more than four million people in Germany.

Indeed, Mr. Schroeder himself seems to no longer know the way forward. He now stands alone as the one to blame for his unfulfilled campaign promises on improving the economy and lowering unemployment. It must be lonely up there.

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