Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Schroeder's Play

Things are going from bad to worse for Gerhard Schroeder. As BBC reports, Germany's July jobless rate is now above 4 million. While this represents a small increase from the June figure, the new figure is a hard hit to Schroeder's re-election campaign. When Schroeder became German Chancellor four years ago he promised to reduce the unemployment rate, then at 4 million, to 3.5 million. That the rate is now exactly where it was four years ago is a bad sign for Mr. Schroeder.

Of course, one can always attempt to deflect criticism on the economic front by turning to international affairs. And as I mentioned yesterday, Schroeder has come out shooting against American "war games" in Iraq. Not that anyone is really fooled by Schroeder's latest gambit. As the German press has pointed out, this is all designed to help boost his Social Democrat-Green Party coalition. I predict it won't work.

In any event, Washington probably won't pay much attention, but Paris well might. Lately, Schroeder and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac have been at odds over a number of "European issues" including European federalism and the hotly contested European agricultural policy. By contract, Edmund Stoiber, head of the centre-right CDU (I hate using this pointless left-right continuum, but everyone over here uses it so why break with tradition?), is a born-again Europhile. While he was once moderately hostile to the EU, he's now calling for a European stance on an Iraq invasion. That he's good buddies with Chirac couldn't have anything to do with this.

In the big picture, we're more or less back where we started in Europe. The off-again on-again Franco-German alliance is playing its traditional role in German politics. This sometimes stormy, potentially dangerous, always amusing affair sits right in the centre of European politics. And in reaction, London, Madrid and Rome throw out suggestions of a tripartite axis aimed to counter the French and Germans. That this plays no small part in Tony Blair's recent willingness to sell-out the staunchly British Gibraltarians to Spain is certain. EU or no, the Europeans still nurse old rivalries. In fact, some may even go so far as to suggest that turf battles in the new Europe aggravates the situation. There's a political lesson for you.

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