Saturday, August 13, 2005

is schroeder playing a deeper game than first appeared?

While I was in Berlin, there was a kerfuffle in German politics. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats lost an election in their home territory, North Rhine-Westphalia, an area they've held for nearly forty years.

So Schroeder called for the national vote to be pushed up a year, to this fall. It looked like political suicide; to a very outside (and non-German speaking) observer, it looked like he'd gotten tired and was looking for a way out. Although some observers suggested that he might be jumping before he was pushed; joblessness is high (12% of the workforce), growth is slow, and there's a lot of grumbling in Germany.

There has been much discussion of Angela Merkel and her party, the Christian Democratic Union, being in the ascendant. Merkel is pragmatic, quietly charismatic, and has a good reputation. She also came to power within her own party during a scandal, making her look all the cleaner and more reform-minded.

But now the BBC reports that Schroeder got rapturous applause from an audience in Hanover when he spoke out against Bush having suggested that force is an appropriate threat against Iran for restarting their nuclear program. And they also point out that while Schroeder has been lagging behind the CDU, the gap is starting to close.

Just as it did the last time Schroder was up for election, three years ago, when he had a surprising win based on the strength of his stance against military involvement in Iraq:
In the 2002 poll, he came from behind to snatch victory after anti-Iraq war feeling - and an outbreak of serious flooding in Germany - helped him attract last-minute support.

I'm not suggesting that Schroeder has been biding his time, waiting for someone else to draw the US's ire so he could cast himself in the anti-war role and enlist his nation's sympathies. But--and I could be completely wrong about this, not having followed the question closely--is it possible that he knows Germany's heart better than it first seemed?

In any case, I find it striking that he said that Germany will not join a military effort against Iran for as long as his party is in power. Which could be a matter of mere months.

And if you're looking for something a little lighter, may I present the Bundesdance, courtesy of Ed over at Berlin Bites. No, I don't know what it means either (I did mention that I neither speak German nor follow German politics) but it's still amusing.