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agricultural laborer

Gerhard Schröder

(born 7 April 1944), German politician, was Chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005. A member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), he led a coalition government of the SPD and the Greens. Before becoming a full-time politician, he was a successful lawyer, and before becoming Chancellor he was Minister-president of the German state of Lower Saxony. Following the 2005 federal election, which his party lost, after three weeks of negotiations he stood down as Chancellor in favour of Angela Merkel of the rival Christian Democratic Union.

Early career

Schröder (often spelled "Schroeder" in English) was born in Mossenberg, in what is now North Rhine-Westphalia. His father Fritz Schröder, a lance corporal in the Wehrmacht, was killed during World War II in action in Romania on 4 October 1944, a few months after Gerhard's birth. His mother Erika worked as an agricultural laborer in order to support herself and her two sons.

Schröder completed an apprenticeship in retail sales in a Lemgo hardware shop from 1958 to 1961, then worked in a retail shop in Lage and after that as an unskilled construction worker and a sales clerk in Göttingen while studying at night school to gain a high school diploma. Still trying to a place at a university, in 1966 Schröder passed the Abitur test at Westfalen-Kolleg, Bielefeld. From 1966 to 1971 he studied law at the University of Göttingen. From 1972 onwards, Schröder served as an assistant at Göttingen University. In 1976, he passed his second law examination and worked as a lawyer until 1990.

Schröder joined the Social Democratic Party in 1963. In 1978 he became the federal chairman of the Young Socialists, the youth organisation of the SPD. He spoke for the dissident Bahro, as did President Jimmy Carter, Herbert Marcuse and Wolf Biermann. In 1982 he wrote an article on the idea of a red/green coalition for a book at Olle & Wolter, Berlin, which later appeared in "Die Zeit". SPD- and SI-Chairman, Chancellor Willy Brandt, who reviewed Olle & Wolter at that time, had just asked for more books on the subject. In 1980 Gerhard Schröder was elected to the German Bundestag, and wore a sweater to parliament instead of the traditional suit. He became chairman of the SPD Hanover district. In 1985, Schröder met with East German leader Erich Honecker during a visit to East Berlin.

In 1986, Schröder was elected to the parliament of Lower Saxony and became leader of the SPD group. After the SPD won the state elections in June 1990, he became Minister-President of Lower Saxony as head of an SPD-Greens coalition; in this position, he also won the 1994 and 1998 state elections.

In federal politics

Following his election as Minister-President in 1990, Schröder became a member of the board of the federal SPD. In 1997/98 he served as President of the Bundesrat, but he left the office on 27 October, three days before his term expired, when he became Chancellor as head of an SPD/Green coalition. At the 22 September 2002 general elections, he secured another four-year term, with a narrow nine-seat majority (down from 21).

After the resignation of Oskar Lafontaine as SPD Chairman in March, 1999, in protest at Schröder's adoption of a number of what Lafontaine considered "neo-liberal" policies, Schröder took over his rival's office as well. In February, 2004, he resigned as chairman of the SPD. Franz Müntefering succeeded him as chairman.

On 22 May 2005, after the SPD lost to the Christian Democrats (CDU) in North Rhine-Westphalia, Gerhard Schröder announced he would call federal elections "as soon as possible". A motion of confidence was subsequently defeated in the Bundestag on 1 July 2005 by 151 to 296 (with 148 abstaining), after Schröder urged members not to vote for his government in order to trigger new elections.

The 2005 German federal elections were held on 18 September. After the elections, neither Schröder's SPD-Green coalition nor the alliance between CDU/CSU and the FDP led by Angela Merkel achieved a majority in parliament, but the CDU/CSU had a stronger popular electoral lead by one percentage point. Since the SPD had been trailing the CDU by more than 15 points only weeks before the election, this outcome was a surprise and was mainly attributed to Schröder's charisma and prowess as a campaigner; polls consistently showed that he was much more popular with the German people than Merkel. On election night, both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory and chancellorship, but after initially ruling out a grand coalition with Merkel, Schröder and Müntefering entered negotiations with her and the CSU's Edmund Stoiber. On 10 October, it was announced that the parties had agreed to form a grand coalition. Schröder agreed to cede the chancellorship to Merkel, but the SPD would hold the majority of government posts and retain considerable control of government policy. Merkel was elected chancellor on 22 November.

On 11 October, Schröder announced that he would not take a post in the new Cabinet and, in November, he confirmed that he would leave politics as soon as Merkel took office. On 23 November 2005, he resigned his Bundestag seat. Subsequently, he joined Ringier AG  Ringier, the publisher of some of the leading newspapers and magazines in Switzerland and Europe, as a Zurich-based political consultant and lobbyist.

On 14 November, at the SPD conference in Karlsruhe, Schröder urged members of the SPD to support the proposed coalition, saying it "carries unmistakably, perhaps primarily, the imprint of the Social Democrats". Many SPD members had previously indicated that they supported the coalition, which would have continued the policies of Schröder's government, but had objected to Angela Merkel replacing him as Chancellor. The conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal.

Chancellorship

Domestic policies

In its first term, Schröder's government decided to phase out nuclear power, fund renewable energies, institute civil unions which enabled same-sex partners to enter into a civil union, and liberalize naturalization law. Most voters associated Schröder with the Agenda 2010 reform program, which included cuts in the social welfare system (national health insurance, unemployment payments, pensions), lowered taxes, and reformed regulations on employment and payment.

After the 2002 election, the SPD steadily lost support in opinion polls. Many increasingly perceived Schröder's Third Way program to be a dismantling of the German welfare state. Moreover, Germany's high unemployment rate remained a serious problem for the government. Schröder's tax policies were also unpopular; when the satirical radio show The Gerd Show released Der Steuersong, featuring Schröder's voice (via impressionist Elmar Brandt) lampooning Germany's indirect taxation with the lyrics "Dog tax, tobacco tax, emissions and environmental tax, did you really think more weren't coming?", it became Germany's 2002 Christmas No. 1 chart hit and sold over a million copies.

Unlike the 2002 election, which was largely won on his opposition of the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, Schröder in 2005 campaigned primarily on domestic issues. Schröder focused on being anti-capitalistic and anti-intellectual. For example, he labelled the opposition's choice for the ministry of finance, Paul Kirchhof, "this professor from Heidelberg" in a derogatory manner. This won him a lot of support among many proletarians. Furthermore he focused on introducing new taxes for the rich. Despite knowing that this would hardly have an effect, Schröder believed it was necessary to win the election.

The fact that Schröder served on the Volkswagen board (on behalf of being minister-president of Lower Saxony) and tended to prefer pro-car policies led to him being nicknamed the "Auto-Kanzler" (car chancellor).

Foreign policy

Schröder sent forces to Kosovo and to Afghanistan as part of NATO operations. Prior to Schröder's Chancellorship, German troops had not taken part in combat actions since World War II. With Germany having a long experience with terrorism itself, Schröder declared solidarity with the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks. When Schröder left office Germany had 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest contingent from any nation other than the United States.

Along with French President Jacques Chirac and many other world leaders, Schröder spoke out strongly against the war on Iraq, and refused any military assistance in that enterprise. Schröder's stance caused political friction between the U.S. and Germany, in particular because he used this topic for his election campaign. Schröder's stance set the stage for alleged anti-American statements by members of the SPD. The parliamentary leader of the SPD, Ludwig Stiegler, compared U.S. President George W. Bush to Julius Caesar while Schröder's Minister of Justice, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, likened Bush to Adolf Hitler. Schröder's critics accused him of enhancing, and campaigning on, anti-American sentiments in Germany.

On 1 August 2004, the 60th anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, he apologised to Poland for "the immeasurable suffering" of its people during the conflict. He was the first German chancellor to be invited to an anniversary of the uprising.

In addition to a friendly relationship with Jacques Chirac, Schröder cultivated close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an attempt to strengthen the "strategic partnership" between Berlin and Moscow, including the opening of a gas pipeline from Russian Andrew Marino-Pipelines over the Baltic Sea exclusively between Russia and Germany (see "Gazprom controversy" below). Schröder was criticized in the media, and subsequently by Angela Merkel, for calling Putin a "flawless democrat" on 22 November 2004, only days before Putin prematurely congratulated Viktor Yanukovich during the Orange Revolution. Only a few days after his chancellorship, Schröder joined the board of directors of the joint venture. Thus bringing about new speculations about his prior objectivity. In his memoirs "Decisions: My Life in Politics" Schröder still defends his friend and political ally, and states that "it would be wrong to place excessive demands on Russia when it comes to the rate of domestic political reform and democratic development, or to judge it solely on the basis of the Chechnya conflict.

Schröder has criticized some European countries' swift decision to recognize Kosovo as an independent state after it declared independence in February 2008. He believes the decision was taken under heavy pressure from the U.S. government and has caused more problems, including the weakening of the so-called pro-EU forces in Serbia.

In August 2008, Schröder laid the blame for the 2008 South Ossetia war squarely on Mikhail Saakashvili and "the West", hinting at American fore-knowledge and refusing to criticize any aspect of Russian policy which had thus far come to light.

Personal life

Schröder has been married four times:

  • Eva Schubach (married 1968, divorced 1972);
  • Anne Taschenmacher (married 1972, divorced 1984);
  • Hiltrud Hampel ("Hillu"; married 1984, divorced 1997);
  • Doris Köpf (married 1997).

Schröder's four marriages have earned him the nickname "Audi Man", a reference to the four-ring symbol of Audi motorcars. Another nickname is "The Lord of the Rings".

Doris Köpf has a daughter, Klara, born 1991, from a previous relationship with a TV journalist. She lives with the couple. In July 2004, Schröder and Köpf adopted a child named Viktoria from St. Petersburg in Russia. In 2006, they adopted another child from St. Petersburg, Gregor.

When not in Berlin, Schröder lives in Hanover.

Schröder identifies himself as a Protestant, but does not appear to be religious. He did not add the optional phrase So wahr mir Gott helfe ("so help me God") when sworn in as chancellor for his first term in 1998.

Schröder's plans after leaving office as Chancellor and resigning his Bundestag seat include resuming his law practice in Berlin and writing a book. He will also be retained by the Swiss publisher Ringier AG as a consultant. He rents an apartment in Berlin while retaining his primary residence in Hanover. As a former Chancellor, he is entitled to a permanent office, also situated in Berlin. He has also spent time improving his English language skills.

Criticism and controversies

Gazprom

As Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder was a strong advocate of the Nord Stream pipeline project, which aims to supply Russian gas directly to Germany and thereby bypassing transit countries. The agreement to build the pipeline was signed two weeks before the German parliamentary election. On 24 October 2005, just a few weeks before Schröder stepped down as a Chancellor, the German government guaranteed to cover 1 billion euros of the Nord Stream project cost, should Gazprom default on a loan. However, this guarantee had never been used. Soon after stepping down as chancellor, Schröder accepted Gazprom's nomination for the post of the head of the shareholders' committee of Nord Stream AG, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest. German opposition parties have expressed concern over the issue, as have the governments of countries over whose territory gas is currently pumped. In an editorial entitled Gerhard Schroeder's Sellout, the American newspaper Washington Post has also expressed sharp criticism, reflecting widening international ramifications of Schröder's new post. Democrat Tom Lantos, chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Holocaust survivor, likened Schröder to a "political prostitute" for his recent behaviour.

Freedom of the press

In April 2002, Schröder sued the DDP press agency for publishing an opinion of PR consultant Sabine Schwind saying that he "would be more credible if he didn't dye his gray hair". The court decided to ban the media from suggesting that he colors his hair. The Chancellor's spokesman said: "This is not a frivolous action taken over whether he does or doesn't dye his hair, but is a serious issue regarding his word." The agency's lawyer said that they could not accept a verdict which "does not coincide with freedom of the press."

Dispute over Estonian war memorial

During a heated dispute between Russia and Estonia in May 2007 over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of the Estonian capital Tallinn to a military cemetery, Schröder defended the Kremlin's reaction. He remarked that Estonia had contradicted "every form of civilised behaviour". Consequently, the Estonian government cancelled a planned visit by Schröder in his function as chairman of Nord Stream AG.

Schröder's first cabinet (27 October 1998 – 22 October 2002)

Changes

  • 18 March 1999: Werner Müller succeeds Lafontaine as acting Minister of Finance, remaining also Minister of Economics.
  • 12 April 1999: Hans Eichel (SPD) succeeds Lafontaine as Minister of Finance.
  • 31 July 1999: Bodo Hombach leaves the cabinet.
  • 17 September 1999: Jürgen Trittin (Gr) succeeds Müntefering as acting Minister of Transport and Construction.
  • 7 October 1999: Reinhard Klimmt (SPD) succeeds Trittin as Minister of Transport and Construction.
  • 20 November 2000: Kurt Bodewig (SPD) succeeds Klimmt as Minister of Transport and Construction.
  • 18 January 2001: Renate Künast (Gr) succeeds Funke as Minister of Consumer Protection, Food, and Agriculture. Ulla Schmidt (SPD) succeeds Fischer as Minister of Health.
  • 19 July 2002: Peter Struck (SPD) succeeds Scharping as Minister of Defence.
  • Däubler-Gmelin was dropped from ministerial duties in Schröder's second chancellorship because comments she made were alleged to compare US President George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler.

Schröder's second cabinet (22 October 2002 – 22 November 2005)

See also

References

External links

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