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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Schroeder weighs up his options
By Clare Murphy
BBC News

Mr Schroeder in the back of a car
Mr Schroeder may be the only one who knows where he is going
"Victory or Viktoria" declared Gerhard Schroeder during the German election campaign.

If his Social Democrats were beaten by Angela Merkel's conservatives, so the mantra went, he would be withdrawing from politics to spend more time with his adopted Russian daughter.

But while the party was indeed defeated, Mr Schroeder seemed rather reluctant to head back to Hanover and Viktoria.

Instead he appeared to find it preposterous that anyone suggested he step down, boldly staking his claim to continue as chancellor.

Hidden agenda?

While Mrs Merkel's Conservatives may have emerged just four seats ahead of the Social Democrats, many found Mr Schroeder's behaviour at best breathtakingly audacious, and at worst symptomatic of a leader who had, quite frankly, lost the plot.

Others however viewed it as a cunning ploy - he was refusing to relinquish the chancellery until he had secured the best possible deal for his own party in a grand coalition of Conservatives and Social Democrats.

And on Monday, as the parties announced that Mrs Merkel would become the country's first female chancellor, Mr Schroeder's sympathisers might indeed have seen themselves vindicated.

The seats in the cabinet may be fairly distributed, but according to sources close to the SPD, the Social Democrats will take some of the most prestigious portfolios - including foreign affairs, finance and health.

Mr Schroeder, they would argue, can concede the chancellery with his head held high.

Where now?

It has been made clear that Mr Schroeder will continue to help steer the SPD through the remaining coalition talks to establish the new government.

Perhaps he will head to the UN....

But he has apparently ruled out taking up any ministerial post in the new cabinet, including the role of vice-chancellor.

This is not part of his part of his "life plan", he said, according to those close to him.

But what exactly does form part of the 61-year-old's grand designs is as yet unclear, and neither he, nor the party leader Franz Muentefering, are giving much away.

However, it is Mr Muentefering's own job that is being touted as one possibility for the soon to be ex-chancellor, who renounced the position in 2003 amid growing discontent over his controversial welfare reforms.

Keeping in the limelight

The job would certainly keep him in Berlin and in the cut and thrust of political life. But there are other options available which would continue to provide him with a taste of power.

...Or back home to Hanover

Some SPD members are already speculating publicly that Mr Schroeder will end up with one of the plum EU jobs.

"He's a political heavyweight who could really take on some important work on the European stage," said Stephan Hilsberg, spokesman for a number of SPD MPs.

And there are other international organisations who might open their doors to Mr Schroeder. The United Nations is cited as one prospect - particularly given Germany's current interest in joining the Security Council of the world body.

But the EU and the UN may have to compete for the chancellor's affections.

After all, there is always Viktoria.


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