- The Washington Times - Monday, September 23, 2002

BERLIN Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's coalition of Social Democrats and Greens narrowly won a second term in office yesterday in an election marked by rare anti-American rhetoric that strained relations with the United States.
With the vote behind them, Mr. Schroeder's aides quickly turned to the task of "damage control," which one senior official said "will be difficult but not impossible."
"I know it will be hard to explain some statements made during the campaign, but I hope we can put the election rhetoric behind," the official said. "There were things said that won't be easily forgotten by the United States."
Mr. Schroed-er's main challenger, Edmund Stoiber of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also had pledged to repair ties with Washington if he won.
With 99.7 percent of the vote counted, official results gave the Social Democrats and Greens a combined 47.1 percent of the vote, compared with 45.9 percent for the alliance between the CDU and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
The so-called "Red-Green" coalition won 305 out of the 601 seats in the new parliament, while the challengers won 294. Smaller parties bagged the remaining seats.
The race was the closest in the country in decades, with exit polls giving both the SPD and the CDU the lead at different times during the night.
"We have hard times in front of us, and we're going to make it together," said Mr. Schroeder, who appeared arm in arm with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, of the Green party, before a cheering crowd at the Social Democrats' headquarters.
Mr. Stoiber had implicitly conceded defeat shortly after midnight but also had predicted that the new Schroeder government "will only be able to govern for a very, very short time. Within the year, I will build a new government."
The challenger called it "a bit of justice that Schroeder will have to experience for a few more months what he has wrought."
"With this Red-Green coalition, Germany won't return to economic health, and it won't break out of the isolation from Europe and America that Schroeder drove it into."
The chancellor's public opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq struck a chord with Germans, who since World War II have favored pacifist policies, helping him overcome a serious deficit in the polls.
Things spilled out of control in the final days of the campaign, with reports that Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin had compared President Bush's political style with that of Adolf Hitler.
The White House, which for weeks had resisted comments on Mr. Schroeder's statements, called the minister's remark "outrageous and inexplicable" and said the U.S.-German relationship had been "poisoned."
Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin denied she had made the comparison and rejected calls for resignation. But an official close to Mr. Schroeder was quoted last night by wire reports as saying that Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin would not retain her Cabinet position.
During the campaign, Mr. Stoiber accused the chancellor of risking the country's relations with the United States and other nations.
A CDU official said last week that Mr. Schroeder, by using the term "German way" and declaring that decisions concerning his country will be made only in Berlin, had shaken two pillars of German foreign policy European integration and trans-Atlantic solidarity.
A senior German diplomat said he regretted that his government took advantage of foreign policy for election purposes, adding: "We need America more than America needs us."
But he said many Germans oppose Mr. Bush's policies, even though they "adore" his father, former President George Bush, who is "a hero here, because he twisted [British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher's and [French President Francois] Mitterrand's arms to sign onto German unification" in 1990.
Although Mr. Stoiber criticized the chancellor's Iraq position, he was forced to promise that, no matter how much he cooperated with the United States in the event of an election win, he would not send German troops to war.
Mr. Stoiber began the campaign with a substantial lead over Mr. Schroeder and maintained it for months, largely because the main issue was Germany's flagging economy and the chancellor's failure to fulfill a promise from four years ago to reduce unemployment.
Mr. Schroeder's deft handling of floods in eastern Germany last month and the Iraq issue enabled the SPD to close the gap.
"We were lucky to get the floods and Iraq, but I'm sure we would have found other issues," a senior SPD campaign official said. "In the end, these were tests that showed that Mr. Schroeder was fully capable of governing."
Political analysts said Mr. Stoiber did not get as many chances to prove his strengths as a national leader, despite an impressive record as head of the southern German state of Bavaria.
"Schroeder's advantage over his challenger was the assessment of who would make a better chancellor personality, leadership and a sense of confidence in being able to do the job," said Helmut Norpoth, a political science professor from the State University of New York at Stony Brook who was in Germany for the vote.
Even though the campaign's final days were dominated by foreign policy, voters said they based their decisions on domestic as well as foreign issues.
"I'm very focused on international issues, but most people were locked in their little world," said Tatjana Sharif, a development studies student who cast her vote in central Berlin.
"I don't think German foreign policy decisions should be made only in Berlin," she said. "They should be made on the European and international levels, but with Germany's interests in mind."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide