Schroeder: no alternative to reform
17 November 2003 , BOCHUM - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday made a powerful speech urging his Social Democrats to back economic reform by arguing only a strong Germany could stand up to an ally like the US and say "no" to the Iraq war.
17 November 2003
BOCHUM - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday made a powerful speech urging his Social Democrats to back economic reform by arguing only a strong Germany could stand up to an ally like the US and say "no" to the Iraq war.
Schroeder, who is seeking re-election as leader of his Social Democratic Party (SPD), warned a party congress they should not be so naive as to believe there was no link between the weight of Germany's economy and its global clout.
"We will retain our strong voice in the world only if we can get Germany back on track," said Schroeder who won thunderous applause for saying that Berlin had used its well-earned right to say "no" to Washington over going to war.
"It was a sign of a mature democracy," Schroeder said, adding that the move - which deeply chilled US-German relations - had won much international respect.
The chancellor drew a straight line from Iraq to his controversial planned reform of German labour laws, state pensions, healthcare as well as tax cuts.
He admitted the reforms would demand a great deal from the public.
But he warned there was no other way to go forward.
"The people didn't elect us because they don't want (labour) reform - they voted for us because they think we're going in the right direction," he said.
Earlier, the SPD began its three-day convention in the Ruhr Valley city of Bochum clearly split between modernisers backing the Chancellor's reforms and traditional leftists who oppose what they see as a neo-liberal agenda.
"Will the SPD follow the reform Chancellor?" asked Germany's biggest selling tabloid Bild.
The question will be answered after Schroeder's speech when the 523 delegates vote to re-elect the Chancellor as SPD chairman. Any result less than the 86.3 percent he won in 1999 would be a clear blow.
Three other leaders linked to reforms are expected to be punished by delegates: SPD Secretary General Olaf Scholz, Finance Minister Hans Eichel and Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement.
In a speech, Clement sought to burnish his social welfare credentials.
"We Social Democrats will never leave anybody behind who cannot fend for themselves," declared Clement.
But the mood of the congress was clearly shown by delegates who loudly applauded trade unionist guests, but refused to clap when business representatives were introduced.
In a bid to win over party leftists the SPD is expected to demand raising inheritance tax.
Adding to Schroeder's woes, the SPD is at historic opinion poll lows of under 25 percent - compared with about 50 percent for the main opposition Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU).
The SPD has suffered recent election losses in the states of Bavaria and Brandenburg. In a run-off vote Sunday in Brandenburg city, the SPD candidate for mayor was badly defeated after gaining 43.8 percent compared to 56.2 percent for the victorious CDU.
Voter anger about the SPD comes as Germany's economy has stagnated for the last three years. The economy is expected to post zero growth this year and unemployment, now 10 percent, is projected to rise sharply during the winter.
Schroeder's left-leaning SPD-Greens coalition was narrowly re- elected last year. Germany's next general election is scheduled for 2006.
Subject: German news