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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Foreign policy works for Schroeder
German protester against the war in Iraq
Schroeder's challenge to America is popular with voters

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is playing with fire.

He has defied America by opposing US military action against Iraq, even if it were backed by a UN Security Council resolution.

He has mocked President Bush, telling election crowds that he will not "click his heels" and say "yes" to whatever America decides.

Mr Schroeder's stance has been welcomed by Iraq, which claims that an American attack would be a "war of aggression."

Open in new window : Key election graphs
Click here to see German election statistics

His snub to the USA goes against 40 years of German foreign policy. But it is popular among German voters, who are overwhelmingly against an attack on Iraq.

Poking America in the eye has given Mr Schroeder new hope of winning the election.

Political risks

Mr Schroeder claims to want to prevent a possible new conflagration in the Middle East.

But he risks wrecking Germany's most vital alliance. He has also broken ranks with the rest of the EU, which says it will back the US as long as it works through the United Nations.

Even some of Mr Schroeder's political friends are said to be tearing their hair out in despair.

A respected former head of Germany's armed forces, General Klaus Naumann, accuses him of destroying America's trust in Germany.

Edmund Stoiber, Mr Schroeder's rival for power, accuses Schroeder of undermining Germany's most vital relationship.

But Mr Stoiber's CDU/CSU alliance is too timid to admit the possibility of supporting US-led military action.

Normal nation

Gerhard Schroeder's boldness may come partly from electoral desperation. But it chimes with the statements he made after he came to power in 1998. He said Germany must cast off its modesty, a legacy from the country's Nazi past. It should pursue its interests as a "normal nation".

But the policy has been clumsily handled and has brought relations with Germany's closest allies and friends to a new low:

  • Mr Schroeder has seriously damaged Germany's relations with the US by his "magaphone diplomacy" over Iraq.
  • The Franco-German axis, the engine of European Union integration for 40 years, looks broken.
  • Mr Schroeder has antagonised the European Commission and undermined German influence in the EU.

Row with France

Gerhard Schroeder's quarrel with the French stems from the high-handedness of President Jacques Chirac.

Mr Chirac has flatly refused Mr Schroeder's plea for cuts in the European Union's huge farm subsidies. Germany, as the EU's main paymaster, is bound to keep French farmers afloat until at least 2006.

Chancellor Schroeder at a campaign rally
Gerhard Schroeder has defied America
Instead of turning France' dependency to his advantage, Schroeder has let ties with Paris grow cold.

For years Germany and France used to set the agenda for the EU's integration together.

Now they are locked in disputes about money and the terms for EU Enlargement.

They cannot agree a joint position in talks on Europe's political future.

Accusing EU

Mr Schroeder has made a whipping-boy of the European Commission, accusing it of being "anti-German".


Mr Schroeder says German foreign policy will be decided only in Berlin. That national alleingang - go-it-alone attitude - has long been discredited in Germany, and his critics expect it to flop

He publicly complained that Germany, as the "milchcow" of Europe, should be stroked to keep it contented.

The Commission has criticised the large public subsidies to eastern Germany, as well as to industry and state banks.

Under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Germany used the EU, and big projects like European economic and monetary union, to cement Germany's secure place in Europe. Mr Schroeder's talk of special "German interests" threatens the whole purpose of the EU.

Success stories

Chancellor Schroeder can claim some foreign policy successes:-

  • He paid Germany's moral debt to millions of victims of Hitler's slave labour policies. The German government and business have set aside 5 billion euros as compensation for survivors in eastern Europe.
  • Mr Schroeder committed German warplanes to the US-led bombing campaign against Yugoslavia over Kosovo - the first German combat operation since World War II. German peacekeepers have played a key role in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
  • Bonn hosted the conference which led to a political settlement in post-Taleban Afghanistan.
  • Foreign minister Joschka Fischer has won international respect and advanced European policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Edmund Stoiber, conservative candidate
Edmund Stoiber is presenting himself as trusted ally of the US
Mr Schroeder says German foreign policy will be decided only in Berlin. That national alleingang - go-it-alone attitude - has long been discredited in Germany, and his critics expect it to flop.

But Schroeder could go further, challenging the US over its partisan support for Israel in the Middle East, and its failure to sign up to the Kyoto Climate Change Convention and the International Criminal Court.

Conservative alternative

Edmund Stoiber is presenting himself as the champion of the safe route for Germany - as a trusted ally of the US and a pillar of the EU. But few Germans seem to be listening. The polls show Schroeder's foreign policy is much more popular.

Other major foreign policy problems may shake Europe if Stoiber wins. He has promised a more nationalist policy on issues from World War Two.

He threatens to veto the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union because of a dispute about the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the region after 1945.

And he has upset the EU's relations with Turkey by saying that as a Muslim nation it should never be let into a "club" of Christian nations.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Broomby
"Gerhard Schroeder is calling for a halt to right wing popularism"
Gerhard Schroeder

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08 Sep 02 | Europe
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