Schroeder vows to carry on after setback

14th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

14 June 2004, BERLIN - The "morning after" in Germany on Monday had a familiar ring to it, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder vowing to soldier on despite another stinging setback at the polls.

14 June 2004

BERLIN - The "morning after" in Germany on Monday had a familiar ring to it, with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder vowing to soldier on despite another stinging setback at the polls.

Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) made the front-page headlines, and once again they were all negative after the party plunged badly in the European Parliamentary elections on Sunday, getting just over one-fifth of the vote - less than half the opposition's tally.

"A Slap for the Chancellor" (Hamburger Morgenpost), "Devastating Losses for the SPD" (Die Welt), "SPD Plunges to Record Low" (Hamburger Abendblatt) were typical examples of what Schroeder and his party had to read over their morning cup of coffee.

And yet: Schroeder vowed he would continue on the policy course which has been much of the cause of public dissent in Germany.

As he headed into a meeting with the party executive committee on Monday, Schroeder insisted there was no alternative than to continue pursuing the controversial "Agenda 2010" package of sweeping reforms.

"I cannot represent another policy," Schroeder said, while adding that he regretted that Berlin had yet to win over support for the reforms of Germany's labour, social welfare, health care and retirement pension systems.

His remarks came as the party was assessing the damage and trying to pick up the pieces after it achieved only 21.5 percent of the vote in the European parliament election, plunging from 30.7 percent five years ago.

The returns on Sunday were a setback not only for the Schroeder-led government, but also for the SPD's hopes that its fortunes would show a turn for the better under new chairman Franz Muentefering.

With SPD party membership plunging and many rank-and-file members accusing Schroeder of selling out the party's values, the chancellor was pretty much forced to hand over the reins to Muentefering, an old-style Social Democrat, last winter. But Sunday's vote produced no improvement, and Muentefering conceded it was a "bitter result".

A tiny consolation for the SPD was that the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) also slipped a bit. They combined for 44.5 percent, compared with 48.7 percent in the 1999 elections.

A further bit of good news for the SPD-Greens coalition in Berlin was that the Greens showed strong gains, rising to 11.9 percent on Sunday, almost double their 6.4 percent showing five years ago.

Still, the combined 33.4 percent for the SPD-Greens camp was a report card which the opposition camp was quick to jump on.

Edmund Stoiber, the CSU prime minister of the state of Bavaria and the man whom Schroeder narrowly defeated in the 2002 national elections, called the vote a "debacle" for the SPD.

"Germany is massively dissatisfied with this government," Stoiber added, predicting that the latest setback would lead to further internal strains in the SPD-Greens coalition in Berlin.

Stoiber repeated the opposition's contention that the Berlin government's days were numbered, and Monday indirectly called for its resignation, saying that a government supported by only one-third of the voters had lost all its backing.

"The government must be clear about whether it can continue on - or whether it wants to," Stoiber said.

But Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens party dismissed any notion of the coalition's days being numbered.

"We have a mandate until 2006," he said in Luxembourg where he was attending an EU foreign ministers meeting. Sunday's result was difficult for the coalition partners, "but it will not weaken the government", he insisted.

Sunday's elections also produced a further setback for the SPD at the state level. Voters in the eastern German state of Thueringia returned the CDU to power with an absolute voting majority in parliament, with the CDU winning 45 out of 88 seats.

The SPD fell over four percentage points to just 14.5 percent as the party dropped three seats, to 15 seats. The former communist PDS party improved almost five points to 26.1 percent to gain 28 seats.

Thueringia is part of a growing list of German states which the SPD has lost power in since Schroeder was first elected chancellor in late 1998.

In 1999 the SPD lost its absolute ruling power in the states of Brandenburg and Saarland, while being relegated to the opposition that same year in Thueringia. It lost power in Saxony-Anhalt in 2002, and then last year in Lower Saxony - Schroeder's home state.


Subject: German news

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