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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Papers doubt Schroeder's chances
Gerhard Schroeder
Schroeder's Iraq tactics have upset some papers
German newspapers have doubts about Gerhard Schroeder's chances of winning a second term as chancellor in September's elections following his early campaign launch on Monday.

There is a general perception that Mr Schroeder's speech to the Hanover rally was very much an attempt to shore up his Social Democratic Party's core support, rather than a bid to attract floating voters.

The fact that the chancellor was driven to deliver such an inward-looking speech so close to election day is clear evidence of the SPD's plight, according to the left-of-centre Berliner Zeitung.

"The SPD doesn't actually know what it wants and is reacting with increasing panic to external stimuli," it believes.

It says Mr Schroeder is facing a problem that dogged the last SPD chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, before his government fell in 1982.

As his opponent criss-crosses the country with a victorious air, Schroeder doesn't want any more experiments now

Der Tagesspiegel

His chopping and changing between "team spirit" and a more presidential style "reveals the Social Democrats' fundamental suspicion of strong leaders", the paper comments.

Mr Schroeder may have curbed the SPD's "suicidal delight in internal feuds", but the fear that an election victory would make him "too powerful for his own party and the guardians of its traditions" means that its activists are waging "a half-hearted campaign", it says.

Another Berlin daily, Der Tagesspiegel, agrees that this was a "back to basics" campaign launch, symbolised by the choice of Hanover - Mr Schroeder's home city - as the venue.

"As his opponent, Edmund Stoiber, criss-crosses the country with a victorious air, he doesn't want any more experiments now," it comments.

After toying with the idea of labour-market reform to bring down Germany's stubbornly high jobless figures, "he has come down totally on the side of the workers, guaranteeing them protection against everything that is unfamiliar and dangerous".

'Saddam card'

This cautious approach also extends to Mr Schroeder's attempt to bring Iraq into the election campaign with a rejection of German involvement in any military "adventures", the paper adds.

The playing of the "Saddam card" itself prompts considerable comment.

President Bush and Chancellor Schroeder
Schroeder and Bush are far apart on Iraq

The right-of-centre Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung believes that while Washington could have discounted a certain amount of anti-US rhetoric from a man who has "his back to the wall", Mr Schroeder went too far in advocating a distinctive "German path".

Without certainty that Saddam can be contained diplomatically, it says, the chancellor's refusal even to help to finance military action "does not increase the pressure on Baghdad but increases our distance from America".

The SPD's "German path... would lead to isolation and lack of influence", it concludes.

Also on the right, Die Welt accuses Mr Schroeder of "reaching for Saddam Hussein as a drowning person reaches for a life-jacket".

It shares the view that the chancellor is shoring up his core support by "shaking into action the depressively phlegmatic election campaigners in his own ranks and gathering the aged representatives of the peace movement behind him".

It is not in Germany's interests to take part in a war waged because Washington wants to topple Saddam

Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Unlike the opposition's Mr Stoiber, who is opposed to bringing Iraq into the election campaign, Die Welt does believe that a debate on the issue is necessary - a view shared by the centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

It welcomes Mr Schroeder's attention to the topic and rejects his rival's stance.

"If somebody who wants to become or stay chancellor keeps quiet on this matter, either he isn't thinking or he is afraid of committing himself," it says.

"It is not in Germany's interests to take part in a war being waged because Washington wants to topple Saddam - and Germany's interests are a legitimate political issue, even and especially in an election campaign."

But the Frankfurter Rundschau, a left-of-centre daily with links to Mr Schroeder's party, doubts the chancellor's motives.

There was nothing essentially new in what Mr Schroeder said about Iraq yesterday, so why lay so much stress on it now, it wonders.

It notes his declaration at the start of his speech that the SPD "wants to win" and, given opinion polls showing that most Germans oppose military action, it concludes that "previous explanations are wholly inadequate and lead us to suspect that this is the main reason".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

27 Jun 02 | Country profiles
05 Aug 02 | Europe
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