Schr?der Strikes Back

What better way to bury the news of your party’s ouster from power in a state it’s ruled for nearly 40 years than to up the ante?

Give this to Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, he still knows how to dominate the news cycle like no one else in Germany. Angela Merkel didn’t hear the news until she was walking into the TV studios. I just saw Edmund Stoiber hem and haw about who would actually be the opposition candidate for chancellor. Squirming on the end of the moderator’s pointed questions, he was. Could not bring himself to say, “Yes, I support Angela Merkel.” Just couldn’t do it.

And there’s this:

On the old schedule, the CDU-CSU would have had a year to promise the moon, the stars and full employment. They would have stoked up a desire for change without having to make any concrete proposals. Voters would have been free to imagine anything they wanted about a future CDU-CSU government, candidate, whatever.

Now they have to be concrete. Maybe tomorrow (according to Merkel), maybe next week (according to Stoiber) there will be a concrete candidate opposing Chancellor Schr?der. That changes the dynamic substantially.

It’s not Schr?der versus hopes and dreams, it’s Schr?der versus Merkel, or versus Stoiber, or versus Koch. Stoiber’s lost once already. Koch really is insufferable. And what I told a junior producer from 60 Minutes in 2002 is still true: Merkel has negative charisma.

So I’ll give this round to Schr?der. The defeat in NRW won’t be the lead headline tomorrow. The CDU-CSU may make a hash of choosing a candidate. He caught his opponents flat-footed. And they are now forced to deal in specifics, which they didn’t want to do until next spring at least. Plus he’s seized the political initiative.

More surprises may be coming soon.

24 thoughts on “Schr?der Strikes Back

  1. And what I told a junior producer from 60 Minutes in 2002 is still true: Merkel has negative charisma.

    True, but so has R?ttgers. But I agree. If conventional measures have failed, unusual measure become sensible.

  2. Still, he needs a miracle to win this year. And it still would not solve any of his problems for more than another news cycle. A simple flood won’t do this time.

    If declaring defeat means winning for the SPD these days, then Schr?der won. Hands down.

  3. Still, he needs a miracle to win this year. And it still would not solve any of his problems for more than another news cycle.

    He needs a miracle anyhow. It might improve his very small majority. It would silence his critics inside the party. It would give some moral standing with respect to the upper house.

  4. Informal great coalition, just as now.
    But yes, basically he and M?ntefering are giving up. They care about 2009 at the earliest.

  5. Yes Doug, I like this take on it. I won’t repeat what I’ve said on Tobias’s post, but just make the point that while the SPD may have only the slimmest of possibilities, then there is never any harm in trying to maximise your possibilities.

    I still think I go with Olivers point that they may not want to be in government during the next 5 years. Maybe for the SPD the optimum result would be a CDU victory with no absolute majority, a government which given the right crisis would fall, maybe this is what he is going for.

  6. To inherit the old trouble and govern against the upper house again? Why?

  7. >>>…the CDU-CSU would have had a year to promise the moon, the stars and full employment.<<<

    Or a full year to screw it all up again and hand the election to the SPD again due to own incompetence. Me personally, I’d love to see a new, fresh head to give back Germany’s political cast at least some decorum and credibility. Neither Merkel, nor Stoiber or, heaven forbid, Koch will do.

    FWIW, I’m with ya on Schr?der being a PR-mastermind. When he’s done politicking in fall this year, he should found an agency and charge other people a buttload of money for his work.

  8. Or a full year to screw it all up again and hand the election to the SPD again due to own incompetence.

    What is likelier? At some point optimism is foolishness. Besides can he trust the MPs for that long?

    There is a second thing. He’s written off about a quarter of MPs now and stabbed the Green party in the back. Given the delay powers of the upper house, the legislature was closed yesterday. It’s probably unwise to give desperate people much time. I am not convinced he’ll wait till autumn.

  9. Imagining 2009, I guess the SPD is over-optimistic about its prospects then. Biased Austrian here, where the SP? in five years of opposition has failed to decide whether it wants to be the empathetic populists or the less corrupt reformers. Since it can’t decide itself, it finds it hard to convince the electorate. SP? might still win in 2006 though. As for Schr?der, I’m sure he can stop dyeing his hair this autumn.

  10. What I am seeing right now (from a distant perspective and with “limited” media coverage) is that the SPD is getting ahead. Not in terms of poll results, but in the campaign. The CDU is completely caught off-guard while the SPD is setting the tone and frames the issues for the campaign. The CDU will have to be reactive to that, they might not be able to shape issues as much as if they would have been able to had the election been next year as planned.

    Schroeder plays out one of his strengths: the active and doing chancellor. The CDU is put in the corner of reactive and more passive action.

    Let’s see how this works out. One thing is clear this is going to be an interesting summer. I am very curious to see how the East will vote. Last federal election the East voted largely “Red” (except Saxony). Will they, with an East German candidate, swing back to the CDU, will they stay red (SPD), or will they say good bye to the major parties and vote minor parties and PDS? The last election was won in the East, because there we have the most non-aligned voters. What will it be this time?

  11. The CDU is completely caught off-guard while the SPD is setting the tone and frames the issues for the campaign. The CDU will have to be reactive to that, they might not be able to shape issues as much as if they would have been able to had the election been next year as planned.

    That is the plan. It’ll work for a week at most. At this level of unemployment there is little choice in the agenda.

    The last election was won in the East, because there we have the most non-aligned voters.

    An election can be lost in the east. But a party really trailing in the west simply cannot win.

  12. Unemployment will be one issue, there will be undoubtedly more.
    For instance, foreign policy.

    Furthermore, the question is, how will the CDU adress those problems. What are there concepts? Do they have any? Are they ready to present themselves as a valuable alternative.

  13. >For instance, foreign policy.

    won’t be an issue this time, in my opinion. Schr?der will have to keep quiet because of the UNSC application and he won’t really be able to exploit a possible permanent seat for electoral reasons, for both domestic and IR reasons. German fp will become a lot more quiet and post-war like to build credibility if they get in (which is, incidentally, why I think the US won’t object in the end, Kohl is in the US right now I think and Schr?der will be there in June). Maybe he thinks this can become his legacy…

    I suppose the basic point is insitutional, not political – the concepts won’t be that different after all. We’ll probably see the CDU health package in the campaign, but no subsatancial tax reform proposal without a product champion like Friedrich Merz. Beyond that, I think there will be more protectionism (intl. as well as qualification-wise) re craftsmenship-oriented smes, there will be less reform with respect to the pension system, but likely more reform with respect to dependent labour protection.

    The SPD (Lafontaine!) screwed this up during their first term when they believed the “new economy boom” would allow them to avoid the structural adjustments – after all they were sailing along nicely back then. Then, in 2002, Schr?der offered the same deal to voters as he did in 1998, only without Oskar, and he tried to deliver. As things were looking bleaker then – and given the fundamental institutional problems for change in Germany, it was easier to ram through “necessary” changes while more and more people bvelieved in impeding doom (although this, economically, seems to have led to some kind of slippery slope of self-fulfillment) But as his resignation from the party chairmanship in 2004 indicated, he probably did not believe that the “progressive” party would have such existential trouble looking to the future instead of the past, even though I figured the loss of many members of the old-left had stabilized the party to some extent.

    I’ve always held the opinion that only the SPD could convince its constituency of the virtues of reform. But if the CDU has learnt the lessons of 1999, then maybe I’ll adjust my opinion: only the SPD could begin the necessary changes, but they could not finish what they started.

  14. “Beyond that, I think there will be more protectionism (intl. as well as qualification-wise) re craftsmenship-oriented smes, there will be less reform with respect to the pension system, but likely more reform with respect to dependent labour protection.”

    Yes, interesting this. The financial markets seem to be welcoming the change, but this leads me to feel that that don’t have a strong grasp of all the issues involved.

  15. “Beyond that, I think there will be more protectionism (intl. as well as qualification-wise) re craftsmenship-oriented smes, there will be less reform with respect to the pension system, but likely more reform with respect to dependent labour protection.”

    Yes, interesting this. The financial markets seem to be welcoming the change, but this leads me to feel that that don’t have a strong grasp of all the issues involved.

  16. That is a smaller consequence and more or less inevitable regardless of who wins.

    If you are looking for important stuff you can forget about raising EU contributions now. They are dead.

  17. Can someone explain to me the constitutional trickery of the calling of an early referendum? I was under the impression that the term of government was fixed in Germany, for members of the Bundestag at least. Why would an early election be constitutional?

  18. Ken,

    you’re right, it’s constitutionally tricky. To avoid the kind of Parliamentary self-discolution that marked the Weimar Republic, the only way to dissolve the Bundestag is by a vote of no-confidence. If the chancellor loses he can *ASK* the German president within 30 days to dissolve Parliament. Helut Kohl, who in 1982 became Chancellor after winning a constructive vote of no-confidence against Helmut Schmidz, used this way to call early elections in 1983. Later the Constitutional Court confirmed the President Carsten’s call, yet made it known that such a measure could only be used under extraordinary circumstances. Now, I’m not sure what exactly constitutes those extraordinary circumstances, but I suppose this an area of insitutional law where a little ambiguity is helpful. Schroeder’s majority is slim, but he still has one. However, there’s another yardstick: All parties now agree that elections are necessary, and as such it would not be a problem to change the constitution itself (2/3 majority). By this (implicit) measure, it becomes obvious that circumstances are indeed “extraordinary”, so that it is not necessary to actually do it and change the institutional safeguards (although that might still happen). I suppse Koehler will dissolve the Bundestag and there will be general elections in September. The Constitutional Court will go along with this, And it might acrually have to decide, as some MPs are already preparing a lawsuit that will be filed as soon as “it happens”.

  19. To avoid the kind of Parliamentary self-discolution that marked the Weimar Republic

    There was no self dissolution under the Weimar constitution. Parliament was dissolved by presidental order whenever the president felt like doing so.

    30 days

    21 days

  20. Thanks Oliver!

    Did you see the Maischberger talk tonight? Rainer Barzel seems to believe Schr?der’s move is mainly motivated by patriotism, not concern about the state of the party. Interesting.

  21. No, I didn’t. For Schr?der himself maybe, I don’t know him personally. But powerful as he may be, this is not one man’s decision.

  22. Don’t know the details, but have also seen reports that Willy Brandt did something similar in 1972. It may be constitutionally questionable, but the average use is once every 18 2/3 years. Germany can probably live with that. It’s a longer time than Weimar’s life span, or that of the Third Reich, and even the Wilhelmine Empire would only have seen it used twice. Measured against the durations of unified German governments, a slightly questionable dissolution every two decades or so is not such a bad thing.

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