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Schröder’s Political Comeback

Below is a translation from the French newspaper Le Monde about how Gerhard Schröder is successfully exploiting Angela Merkel’s difficulties with the regional elections and the sticky issue of handling immigrant youth delinquency, and may be set for a dramatic and unexpected political comeback:

Schröder’s Political Comeback By Daniel Vernet Le Monde, Jan. 16, 2008 Angela Merkel’s easy days are over! During the two first years of her term beginning in the fall of 2005, the German chancellor has been cruising over the reforms implemented by the previous Red-Green government. In 2007, she vaulted herself to an international level with rotating presidencies of the European Union and the G8 (the largest industrial countries in the world). Again and again she breaks popularity records, far ahead of her potential competitors.

Despite the squabbles with Social Democrats inside the Grand Coalition, the insider opposition has been quite calm. This year, a change of settings. Mrs Merkel must face the regional elections – in January, Hesse and Lower Saxony; in February, Hamburg; then in September, Bavaria-Länder, governed by her Christian Democrat friends.Her job is of course not at stake, but like the mid-term elections in France, Germany’s regional elections play a similar role. These elections are used as an outlet to express discontent at the expense of the party, holding the chancellery responsible. It also triggers ferocious controversies between competitors, who are sometimes, like today, allies of the federal government.This is especially the case in Hesse, where the outgoing minister Roland Koch, an old rival of Mrs Merkel for the Christian Democrats leadership, has started a campaign with strong xenophobic undertones. He has made “youth delinquency” his central campaign theme, especially the hooliganism of young immigrants, in an attempt to make gains in the polls.He has brought back reform schools and rapid expulsions.It’s not the first time that Mr. Koch has entered such dubious grounds. Back in 1999, he clashed with the Social Democrats who had just come into power in Berlin by organizing petitions against granting dual citizenship to Turkish residents in Germany. Gerard Schröder hasn’t forgotten. The former chancellor – converted into a celebrity pitchman for Russia’s Gazprom – is using this to make an unexpected comeback in German politics, appealing to activists who are pleased to have rediscovered their fighter of lost causes, he slams both Angela Merkel and Roland Koch for remaining idle in the fight against neo-Nazi violence: “Obviously, they both are blind in the right eye,” he said.To minimize damages, the chancellor has followed the lead of the minister from Hesse -but without great enthusiasm.Mr Koch has been pleased to refer to a 1997 quote from Mr Schröder: “We must not be so hesitant with alien delinquency. For those who do not respect our laws, there is only one outcome: out and fast!” And the controversy is at its climax between the two parties: these exchanges would only be campaign talk without consequences if they were not uttered by people who on the day after the election will have to continue to cooperate with the federal government for more than a year and a half, according to all reasonable forecasts. Not only do these invectives leave personal scars, but the electoral competition gives way to escalation, regarding delinquency repression on the side of Christian Democrats, regarding social policies on the side of Social Democrats, that will put the Grant Coalition in an uneasy situation.Mr. Schröder’s re-emergence on the public stage has nothing less than a double advantage. Since he does not hold the FDP together, he is able to be more pugnacious than the ministers who work every day with their CDU colleagues. With his straightforward speeches he lifts the spirits of the Social Democrat base, who are disoriented by a forced alliance with the right wing, in need of a leader capable of competing with Mrs Merkel.