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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Profile: Gerhard Schroeder
Gerhard Schroeder's career is a tale of rags to political riches.

Gerhard Schroeder
The Schroeder smile has been one of the keys to his success
Born in Mossenberg, Lower Saxony, in 1944, he never saw his father, an unskilled worker who died with the German army in Romania.

He was brought up in poverty by his mother, a cleaner, and once admitted being the scruffy child that other children would refuse to play with.

As a young man he promised his mother that one day he would drive up to her door in a Mercedes.

He kept his word after studying law at night school - while working in an ironmonger's shop or on a construction site by day - and making a mark in Germany's Young Socialist organisation.

On his mother's 80th birthday, in 1990, as the newly elected prime minister of Lower Saxony, he was able to call at her house in his official limo and take her out for a celebration.

He reached the pinnacle of German politics eight years later, ending 16 years of conservative government under Helmut Kohl, and narrowly won a second term as chancellor in 2002.

Idealist

The young Schroeder was a Marxist and environmentalist. In the early 1970s he idolised Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Willy Brandt, whose Ostpolitik promised better relations with communist Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

SCHROEDER'S PROGRESS
1944: Born in Lower Saxony
1966: Begins law studies
1978: Chairman of Young Socialists
1980: Elected to parliament
1990: Prime Minister of Lower Saxony
1998: Elected chancellor
2002: Wins second term

But somewhere along the line the idealist also developed a taste for smart suits, cashmere sweaters and big cigars.

Before long he was sitting on the board of Volkswagen.

He dismayed some supporters in 2002, by launching a legal case widely seen as an attack on freedom of speech - trying to stop a news agency repeating allegations that he dyed his hair.

However he is often described as charismatic and media-savvy, and his rise to the top owed much to confident handling of the media.

New Middle

In the run-up to the 1998 general election there were three Social Democrats who could have been chosen as the party's candidate for the chancellorship - himself, "Red" Oskar Lafontaine, and Rudolf Scharping.

Doris Schroeder-Kopf with Gerhard Schroeder
Gerhard Schroeder's fourth wife, Doris, is 19 years his junior

Mr Schroeder was selected because polls showed voters warmed to his bluff manner, and broad smile.

He won the election promising to create a "New Middle" in German politics.

He also promised more jobs, saying, unwisely, that his government would not deserve to remain in power if it failed to achieve a clear reduction in the number out of work.

That has been the most conspicuous failure of his chancellorship.

During his first term the number of unemployed dropped, then rose to much the same level he had inherited from Helmut Kohl.

In February 2005, the number of German jobless rose above five million for the first time.

International clout

Mr Schroeder is the first German chancellor whose life, or whose youth, was not dominated by World War II, and a key development under his chancellorship has been Germany's new readiness to punch at its true weight on the world stage.

German troops have joined peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Macedonia, and combat operations in Afghanistan.

Mr Schroeder's re-election in 2002 - by a narrow margin - was attributed largely to his firm opposition to the looming US-led intervention in Iraq.

While ties with Washington were strained, Mr Schroeder forged closer relations with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac.

Germany also lobbied for more voting power within the European Union, and warned partners that it was no longer prepared to pay a disproportionate amount into the EU budget.

Tough reforms

The country's economic woes have plagued Mr Schroeder's seven years in power.

In 2003 he outlined a major programme of reforms, Agenda 2010, combining tax cuts and changes to the welfare state. They were very unpopular with many of the SPD's core supporters.

A package of cuts to benefits for the long-term unemployed came into force in January 2005.

In May, the SPD lost power in its traditional stronghold of North Rhine-Westphalia, prompting Mr Schroeder to engineer an early election by deliberately losing a confidence vote in parliament.

Mr Schroeder is married to Doris Schroeder-Kopf - his fourth wife. He lives together with her, her daughter Klara from a previous relationship and a Russian girl called Viktoria, adopted in 2004.




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