German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has lost a confidence vote in parliament, giving him the chance he has sought to hold early elections.
Members of Schroeder's party obeyed his request to abstain, 151 members backed the government and 296 voted against.
Mr Schroeder wants to bring the elections forward by a year to provide him with a mandate for tough reforms aimed at reviving the ailing German economy.
Will early elections put Germany on the right path? Does Germany need new leadership?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
When I lived in Germany, I used to be a passionate Social Democrat. After Helmut Kohl had brought the country to its knees, I was glad to see a red-green government in place. What a misjudgement! The fact that the new government will be a conservative one again, however, makes me shudder. I will vote for the new left-wing movement and hope that people will realise that the established parties have completely lost the plot. It is very interesting to see that the same thing has happened here in the UK. Both the Tories and New Labour are just a farce! And don't even start me on the political situation in Northern Ireland!
Milan Kopriva, German citizen living in Belfast, Northern Ireland
I came to Germany in the late seventies to study. Since then I have been living and working with Germans. In order for Germany to be the economic powerhouse of Europe again, she has to undergo a thorough economic surgery, which will allow her to compete globally. This can only happen when the majority of the people are willing to accept drastic changes. No matter who wins the next elections, without the people willing to give up something for a better future, the situation will get worst.
Ah, Mannheim, Germany
I moved to Germany a year ago and like many Brits was horrified by the rigidity and sluggishness of German life. I wish Angela Merkel every success with essential economic reforms that I am sure will make Germany prosperous again. The British should not be too smug though. Compared to the UK, Germans still have a much higher standard of living, housing is affordable, and nobody works especially hard. It's a good life here, even though the Germans love to complain about it.
Jacob Highams, Berlin, Germany
The situation for Germany and its twin France is hopeless. They have lost their exclusivity in the American market for their industrial products, first to Japan based on quality, and now to China based on price. Even in their own domestic markets they are being challenged under the WTO rules of free trade. They are on the horns of an insolvable dilemma. To become competitive, they must give up their high cost social welfare state because it is now unaffordable. But to give it up is politically unacceptable as the German people have become so accustomed to it, they will not settle for less. Halfway measures will not work because the cost cutting will not be sufficient and the social price will be too high. Their plight is mirrored all over industrialized western Europe.
I lived in Germany for 2 years, and it seemed clear to me that there was a chronic sense of pessimism amongst the German people, which was shocking considering that it was supposed to be the EU's economic powerhouse. It has always been clear to me that each government sets the character for the nation, so for Mr Schroeder it is time to go. Germany's future lies in free markets, unregulated labour force, and Angela Merkel. Henry Kissinger says that Bismarck gave the Germans a nation with a greatness its people have never been able to assimilate. Germany's natural place in Europe is that of leadership, next to the UK, not next to a stagnant and decaying France.
Luis F Jimenez, Bogota, Colombia
I just don't think that the political discussion will be over at this point of time. Right now I think the easiest bit of the process of making new elections possible has been made. The real challenge however, will be faced by Horst Koehler, the German president, when he has to decide whether Schroeder's claims were valid. If indeed he would agree with the chancellor and make way for early elections there still is the possibility of an intervention of Germany's supreme court (as some MPs have already announced to fight the president's verdict). There even exists the remote possibility that although parliament is dissolved by the President the Supreme Court will overrule his judgement, resulting in a considerable damage of Horst Koehler's political position. It would have been a much cleaner way for Schroeder to resign.
Chris, Hamburg, Germany
Germany must be prepared to suffer in order to come out on top in the long run. Unfortunately, most Germans have had become so comfortable in the decades following the economic miracle of the 1950s, and as a nation are resistant to change of any kind that a massive overhaul of the economy and welfare state will be an all but impossible task for any given chancellor (even more so since the Germany political system of proportional representation means it's extremely difficult to reach consensus and push through bills). As a Brit living and working in Germany I see the need for massive reform in every facet of society. There really is lots of discontent, but the problem is Germans just don't believe the responsibility lies with themselves; no, the blame lies with incumbent politicians, the ramifications of German reunification as well as EU enlargement and the associated outsourcing, loss of jobs etc. Of course, most Germans support all plans from the government to foster recovery, but certainly not at the cost of their own economic and social well-being.
Emma Holford, Heidelberg, Germany
Early elections will definitely help Germany recover more quickly from its economic woes. The country needs a government with an overwhelming majority in both the upper and the lower house of parliament in order to implement economic and political reform, which Schroeder does not dispose of. Schroeder is a talented politician and a remarkable chancellor, but he lacks support among his own political allies. To call for early elections ahead of schedule which he is not likely to win is a courageous act, an honourably committed political suicide: he not only steps down, but also paves the way for the Christian-democratic opposition to form Germany's next government.
Christoph Ester, Paris, France
Finally! Schroeder and his team of feel-good socialists will be history soon (given that there won't be another US-led war somewhere in the next 3 months). Merkel will push through the long needed reforms of the labour market to make Germany competitive again.
Laura Weston, Berlin, Germany
Schroeder had the right ideas but Germany isn't ready. Even if Merkel wins things will be no different as Germany is not ready for reform! Your ill things often get worse before they get better look at Britain in the 80s to Britain today!
Scott Sellers, Erlangen, Germany
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is a power packed statesman. He has seen the East and West Germany break and unite. His hope for early elections to put Germany on the right path is the only hope now left. Germany does not need a new leadership. His power he displayed when Iraq was to be invaded, his jobless program, and his stand for the EU portrays him that he is the right person to lead Germany in prosperity.
Firozali A Mulla, Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania
I believe it doesn't matter who leads Germany in the future, Schroeder and Merkel will both continue with the wishy-washy politics of the last twenty years that will lead Germany into ruin. The social state that has been so wonderful over the last years just simply isn't affordable any more. Germany needs a chancellor who is going to tell the German people how things really are and make tough decisions, decisions that are sometimes going to have a negative impact on some people's lives who have had things too easy for too many years. Schroeder is too busy trying not to offend anyone and Merkel just doesn't have any ideas, or if she does she doesn't communicate them. There is a real danger that the extremist parties are going to get a decent say in the German government, especially the extreme left, if neither of the two standard parties can show the voters that they have vision.
George Ndah, Essen, Germany
Having been a serviceman in Germany for nearly 20 years, and then living here for over 10 years, I have seen Germany move from being a strong economic leader and world force to a country ruined by politicians. From the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction of the Euro and the vote on the EU constitution, the electorate have had little to say. The only chance came in the recent local elections, and the voice was clear. Both CDU and SPD have been very economical with the truth, the people of Germany are well aware that they have been sold out by the two governments. Now possibly both parties will pay the price. Many people believe Angela Merkel of the CDU will be the next leader, but let us be aware that in the shadows stand the WASG, led by Oskar Lafontaine, a left wing party, maybe the people of Germany want or need a complete change? The two other parties need to understand that politicians are answerable to the electorate, and not the other way round, which seems to have been the case for some years.
Steve, Bettinghausen, Germany
Having experienced the pain brought by the reforms of Ms Thatcher, I wish the German people for their future and hope they keep a close eye on the needs of society and to not have anyone say a that "society is dead", but what does this mean for EU reform now in the (albeit unpopular) hands of a UK government?
Mark Franklin, Derby
I wouldn't hope that Germany would get a "Thatcher-type" as a leader considering the dire times that Britain faced under her rule. Also considering how correct Schroeder has been when it comes to being critical about the Iraq war one has to admire his foreign policies as opposed to those of, for example, Tony Blair. The domestic policies of present day Britain are also nothing to rave about with clear divisions between classes. Germany does not need a class-based system.
Hannu Salmela, Oulu, Finland
It is the people most reliant on the generous state-benefits that have been punishing the SPD the most. They are upset because Schroeder is trying to reform this much-abused system. If the CDU wins this coming election, their reforms will be far harder than Schroeder's attempts.
Craig Wright, Berlin, Germany
The next elections look bleak for Mr Schroeder. He has implemented some very unpopular (though in my opinion important, necessary and in the long-term unavoidable) reforms to Germany's social welfare system. Additionally, the fact that even North Rhine-Westphalia voted CDU unmistakably demonstrates how dissatisfied Germans are with their current political leadership. It looks as though Mrs Merkel is likely to become our first female chancellor. She, unlike Mr Schroeder, is affiliated with the right party to push through welfare reforms and a free market economy in order to improve Germany's unemployment rate and economic performance.
Christina Schulthoff, London, UK
It doesn't matter who is in power in Germany - the problems the country is facing need to be dealt with by a Chancellor who is there for the good of the country and not for the good of himself! For too long now Germany has been governed by weak politicians who know only too well what needs to be done but are too afraid of losing votes and popularity to introduce unpopular but necessary reforms. Germany needs its own Margaret Thatcher to pull the land out of the rut it has fallen into - and that's neither Angela Merkel nor Gerhard Schroeder.
Alisa Matthews, Kassel, Germany
Few Germans will vote for the painful but necessary adjustment. The same was true in Britain during the 1980s. The Thatcher governments were never popular, but they were elected because of Britain's "unfair" electoral system, and also because the Centre-Left vote was split by the then SDP. Germany uses proportional representation so a minority government is impossible. However, curiously, it is the German Greens that are the most 'Thatcherite' economically. If they succeed in increasing their vote in September, Germany could get the next best thing to Mrs Thatcher: a 'Black-Green' coalition.
Robert Blood, Freiburg, Germany
Schroeder tried to create a Socialist utopia in Germany and it crushed the economy. I thought Europe learned its lesson regarding wasteful spending on socialist politics. Idealism never keeps with reality yet, politicians who somehow convince people that it does still continue to get elected and run their country's economy into the ground. Quit following pipe dreams Europe and elect politicians who know how to deal with the real world.
John, San Antonio, TX, USA
Schroeder has lost the vote of confidence - do people think Angela Merkel can do it better? I'm not too sure. People here in Germany are still paying for the cost of reunification, which is taking much longer than the government planned. This, coupled with the expansion of the EU, namely the countries bordering former East Germany, are causing a great deal of human traffic and massive competition for jobs. In the UK you lose your job so you go and get another one. In Germany, if you have a job, you keep hold of it. Unemployment is as high as 20% in some parts. But then you pay through the nose in taxes. The people here have very contrasting opinions on how to resolve the situation which split the classes and also highlights geographical conflicts of opinion. Germany needs a strong leader to show them the light at the end of the tunnel. Schroeder isn't that person. Can Angela Merkel do it? Well, we may as well give her a chance, there's no-one else around who seems willing to want to have a go!
Andrew Rennison, Hamburg, Germany
That Germany needs to get much, much better at creating jobs nobody can dispute. Schroeder tried to do it with kid gloves, but the gloves will be off once Angela Merkel is chancellor. I just hope the price isn't too high though. Germany, with its clean streets, modern and attractive public transport and high standard of civic pride, remains a pleasure to travel in and through. So unlike the filthy, unreliable experience that too often greets visitors to Britain. We've paid a high price for our 'efficiency' in the UK.
RN Walker, London, England and St Gilgen, Austria
I feel sorry for Schroeder as he had the right ideas but belonged to the wrong party to push through the necessary reforms. Merkel knows what to do (introduce tuition fees, relax labour laws, reduce unemployment benefits) and I am confident she is the right woman for the job. A lot of people criticised Thatcher during her time, but Britain is reaping the benefits now. The same will be said of Merkel in a decade or so when Germany has returned to be the superpower of Europe.
Daniel MacGowan, Munich, Germany
Germany's government of Social Democrats and left-wing Greens, which came into power after the great statesman Kohl had been Chancellor for just too long, have ruined Europe's former economic power, destroyed the county's self-confidence and it's reputation abroad. Along with Chirac of France, a man still in favour of a state-run rather than free economy, they all have to be removed from office as soon as possible. After that, Britain's progressive views, especially economically, may prevail and help create a new Europe.
Jan Grensemann, Nuremberg, Germany
Being a frequent visitor to Germany over the past 6 years, I have seen the economy ground to a halt, people having little money to spend or prospects to look forward to. A disturbing number of Germans are completely reliant on government handouts that are crippling those who pay stifling levels of tax. It is a system that is not only a downward spiral but has divided the nation in a similar way to Britain in 1979. Schroeder has no grassroots party support for his reforms despite having tried to push them through. It will take a Thatcher-type figure to change a fundamentally flawed economy and deluded mindset of the average German.
Patrick, London, UK