Schroeder on the rebound

13th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is enjoying a dramatic turnaround in his political fortunes as the conservative-led opposition stumbles. After a string of election disasters for the government, the pendulum, writes Leon Mangasarian, seems to be swinging back to Schroeder.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats are on a rebound after one of the most difficult periods in the Chancellor's six years in office, opinion polls and media commentary agree.

Gerhard Schroeder is enjoying a surge in his personal popularity ratings

In stark contrast, the opposition Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) - which believed it was coasting toward easy victory over Schroeder in Germany's 2006 general election - now seems to have lost its way and is sinking into infighting on key issues.

Let's start with the opinion polls.

After hitting historic lows of about 20 percent last spring, Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) have since been rising in voter favour with a sharp upwards spike since mid-August.

The SPD is currently at 31 percent, which is its highest rating since June last year.

Now look at the CDU/CSU.

After sunning itself with ratings early this year over 50 percent, the conservatives have been in slow decline since March and are now at under 40 percent.

"Poll ratings for the CDU/CSU are currently in a free fall," said the conservative newspaper Die Welt which normally backs the CDU/CSU.

Equally in the SPD's favour is a surge in Chancellor's Schroeder's personal popularity.

*quote1*Schroeder's rating rose by an impressive 12 points in September to 49 percent, whereas as CDU chief Angela Merkel fell by 6 points to 32 percent, in an Infratest-Dimap poll asking people who they would vote for as chancellor.

Although German unemployment remains grim - over 10 percent nationally and close to 20 percent in hard hit eastern Germany - something of a feel-good factor is slowly returning after three years of economic stagnation even as fringe support for far-right and far-left parties has grown. GDP is projected to grow by a solid 2 percent both this year and in 2005.

Meanwhile, mass protests against Schroeder's cutting unemployment benefits, a programme known as "Hartz IV", swiftly peaked in August and September and have since fizzled out.

A surprising 59 percent of Germans now say the CDU/CSU would be no better at solving the country's economic woes than Schroeder's SPD coalition with the Greens, says the Infratest-Dimap poll.

Poll ratings for Angela Merkel's led opposition are currently in a free fall

"The political mood is shifting. German anger over Hartz IV is receding and skepticism over a possible CDU/CSU led-government is on the rise," said the respected Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper.

Recent state and regional election defeats for Schroeder's party also turned out to have a small silver lining last weekend when his SPD coasted to victory in a second round of voting in five cities and two formerly CDU-ruled district councils in North Rhine-Westphalia state.

"The pendulum is slowly swinging back to the SPD," enthused North Rhine-Westphalia's SPD Prime Minister Peer Steinbrueck who faces a tough re-election bid next May.

Also pleasing to Schroeder - who has been in a markedly good mood at public appearances since a summer vacation in Italy - is that he has overtaken Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in popularity rankings.

Fischer has long been a darling of Germany's centre-left but his superstar status was becoming a thorn in Schroeder's side as the SPD struggled with low ratings.

*quote2*Meanwhile, a secret CDU/CSU study - leaked to the normally well-informed Bild tabloid newspaper - concludes the conservatives' decline is in a good part due to their own antics.

An inherent problem is that the CDU/CSU bloc is comprised of two parties: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) which is arch-conservative on issues such as church, marriage and immigration but, as its name suggests, is not always keen to cut government spending on social welfare.

The CDU and the CSU have been slugging it out for weeks over rival plans to reform Germany's creaking healthcare system with the CDU wanting a total overhaul but the CSU calling for cautious tinkering.

Turkey is another issue badly splitting Germany's conservatives.

Both Merkel and CSU chief Edmund Stoiber back calls for launching a mass petition to oppose Turkish membership in the European Union as a reaction to Chancellor Schroeder's strong backing for letting Ankara join the 25-nation EU.

But party heavyweights such as former CDU defence minister Volker Ruehe - who heads parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee - and former CDU secretary general Ruprecht Polenz are strongly against the petition which has been denounced by the Schroeder government as dangerously populist.

Meanwhile, Merkel has come under fresh pressure as a result of the unexpected announcement by prominent CDU figure Friedrich Merz that he was giving up all his senior party posts.  

Adding to confusion over the CDU/CSU are awkward wrangles over who will challenge Schroeder in the 2006 election.

Stoiber, who was narrowly defeated by the Chancellor in the last election in 2002, would clearly like a second chance. As political jousting grows in the run-up, a tacit agreement under which Merkel was to be candidate may be unravelling. Also in waiting in the wings is the ambitious CDU premier of Hesse state, Roland Koch.

Die Welt came to a gloomy conclusion about the CDU/CSU's current performance.

"Even conservatives themselves are totally confused by the dazzling show being put on by both (the CDU and the CSU)," admitted the paper.
October 2004


[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: German news, Gerhard Schroeder, Angela Merkel

0 Comments To This Article