February 10, 2003


Schroeder's coalition near collapse over leak (Roger Boyes, February 11, 2003, The Times of London)
GERMANY'S coalition Government was on the brink of collapse yesterday as details emerged of a row between Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor, and Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister, who threatened to quit over differences on Iraq. Herr Fischer, the leader of the Green Party, was enraged over weekend press leaks of a Franco-German plan to establish a UN protectorate in Iraq. The leak, to Der Spiegel magazine, appeared to come from the Chancellery or Social Democrat headquarters. [...]

Herr Fischer has now been snubbed at least three times by the Chancellor. He was not warned in advance when Herr Schroeder started to mobilise voter support during the general election campaign by warning against a US-led war. He was also wrong-footed when the Chancellor announced that Germany would never accept a UN resolution "legitimising a war" against Iraq. Herr Schröder has also mocked and publicly called to order one of Herr Fischer's key diplomats, the German envoy to the UN.

Herr Fischer's authority depends on public support from the Chancellor, on close European co-operation beyond the Franco-German axis, on the trust of Washington and on discipline within his Green Party. All these pillars have crumbled since the general election six months ago.

When rumours of resignation spread three weeks ago, the Chancellor called in Herr Fischer for a "clarifying talk". But for two hours the men, formerly friends who forged the idea of a Social Democratic-Green alliance in a pub conversation some 20 years ago, conducted a shouting match.

Later the Chancellor declared, to the irritation of Herr Fischer: "Let's face it, the grass roots of the Green Party are closer to me than to the Foreign Minister."

I don't know how German elections work, but presumably if the government fell they'd have new ones, in which the Christian Democrats would likely prevail, running as a pro-U.S. party. That would leave Jacques Chirac rather far up the Seine without a paddle, eh? Posted by Orrin Judd at February 10, 2003 7:13 PM

The CDU probably would not run as pro-American. They would run on the economy, on which they soundly whipped the SDU in the last election. The SDU was able to form the government because of its alliance with the Greens, who had a much better showing than the CDU's partner (the name of which escapes me at the moment).

But a CDU victory would be effectively pro-American, both because the CDU is interested in market based reforms of German employment policies and because it would be much less likely to play along with Chirac and much more likely to be a constructive member of NATO.

But does the German constitution allow for interim elections? I just don't know the answer. I think the first thing to be tried will be to replace Schroeder as head of the SDU.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 10, 2003 7:58 PM

The German constitution is a parliamentary system for the lower house. If Schroeder loses a vote of confidence, there will be new elections.

I strongly doubt that the Greens would let that happen though, given the current polls. Would humiliating the SPD be worth a Union government? They'll bark, but I'll be surprised if they vote against a vote of confidence.

Posted by: John Thacker at February 10, 2003 8:20 PM


I forget where I saw it but the head of the CDU, whoever that is, made a big produuction of backing even the war the other day.

Posted by: oj at February 10, 2003 8:45 PM

Although there is a possibility to anticipate the federal elections in Germany (they're not due till 2006), it is highly unlikely. The basic rule is a so-called constructive no confidence vote, meaning that the Bundestag has to depose the current Chancellor and elect his successor at the same time. Only when a chancellor has lost parliamentary confidence but no successor can be agreed upon within a certain timespan (I'm not sure how much time), will there be anticipated elections.

The practical consequence of this rule is that no one puts up a no confidence vote unless an alternative coalition has already been formed. Given the bitterness between the Red-Green partners on the one hand and the opposition on the other hand, I don't think a switch is likely. Fischer is completely alone in his party, which is so extremely to the left that even Lenin would be proud.

By the way, David, Schroeder's party is the SPD, not the SDU.

Posted by: Peter at February 11, 2003 4:26 AM

Thanks for the explanation, Peter.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 11, 2003 8:58 AM

Even if Shroder isn't kicked out right now, this weakens the benefit to the left/anti-war groups of Germany's opposition to US/UK action in Iraq.

As OJ notes the more isolated the French become in opposing the Iraq action the better for the US/UK.

Who knows, the predictions of NATO and EU being ripped apart may be reduced to France getting kicked out.

Posted by: AWW at February 11, 2003 10:08 AM

Why does anyone even care? How much is Germany worth as a friend?

Posted by: Harry at February 11, 2003 5:06 PM

The agony of those you hate is always a pleasure, though that's a sin.

Posted by: oj at February 11, 2003 11:39 PM