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Western Press Review: Commentators Examine Schroeder's First Moves

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 1 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentary in Western Europe and, of course, Germany, continues to fix on Germany's transition from the 16 years of Helmut Kohl to the emerging left-green coalition to be led by Gerhard Schroeder.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The days after the political earthquake are marked by caution

Commentator Richard Meng in the Frankfurter Rundschau describes approvingly what he sees as a mature and civil democratic changeover. He writes: "The swap of roles in Bonn is taking place with astonishing unobtrusiveness. The old parties of government are calling the changeover a normal democratic process, thus demonstrating good form and, for the time being, suppressing how deeply they have been affected. The future Red-Green coalition partners are trying to show how much the Kohl era has taught them about managing power. Make no premature commitments, commit no technical errors at the outset, and stick together come what may. The days after the political earthquake are marked by caution."

The commentary concludes: "It will not be possible to draw up a crisis-proof plan for four years in advance. The Red-Green opportunity lies in the fact that politics will return to being a more strongly social event, that there will be genuine debates once more. One could interpret the political landslide as meaning that the thirst for such debates still exists. That is why the change of government must be more than just a change of roles in the administration of power."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Germany is politically conspicuous by its absence at the IMF-World Bank meeting

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Helmut Maier-Mannhart also hails Kohl's civility but Maier-Mannhart says he detects a sour note in outgoing Finance Minister Theo Waigel's failure to attend this week's joint IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington. The writer says: "It is difficult to step down from the political stage with dignity, although Helmut Kohl managed to do it on election night when he appeared before the television public as a loser who glossed over nothing and blamed no one."

The commentary continues: "Theo Waigel stepped down as chairman of the CSU (Christian Social Union, sister party of Kohl's CDU) without apparent bitterness, even though everyone knew that he was merely beating the gun for something that had already been planned in the event of an election defeat."

Maier-Mannhart says that Waigel offered as his lame excuse for not attending the international-finance meetings in Washington that he had to attend a memorial service for the 10th anniversary of Franz Josef Strauss. The commentator says: "The result, however, is that Germany is politically conspicuous by its absence at an important time for the IMF. That is unfortunate because never before have coordination and cooperation in the field of international financial markets been more important than today." He concludes: "As the third-largest shareholder in the IMF - and thus the third biggest payer - Germany is not only under-represented in the organization and in the World Bank (where representation is decided by IMF subscription levels), but also in its political influence. A new finance minister by the name of Oskar Lafontaine should change that."

ALGEMEEN DAGBLAD: The Greens will have to adapt

From the Algemeen Dagblad, Rotterdam, comes this editorial: "Following 16 years of stability under Kohl, most Germans want something different, but they have a horror of experiments. That is why Schroeder must not distance himself too far from the 'New Middle.' Naturally, the question now is to what degree he wants to oblige his Greens (partners). Not too far, probably. Schroeder will not suffer unrealistic demands: leaving NATO, increasing the price of gas to (the equivalent of three U.S. dollars) per liter, relinquishing atomic energy -- all that does not appear in his political program. The Berlin Republic will possibly be more German and less European, but it will certainly firmly remain in the EU and NATO. Not Germany and the SPD, but the Greens will have to adapt."

LIBERATION: Schroeder is making earnest efforts to mitigate French jealousy

Liberation, Paris, says editorially that Schroeder has made a sudden -- and reassuring -- swoop toward France. The paper says: "Gerhard Schroeder has not yet been elected as chancellor and he is hurrying to Paris hardly three days after his victory in the Sunday elections. This gesture should symbolize a strong engagement in German-French relations. Gerhard Schroeder has acted as swiftly as Helmut Kohl in 1982, who was elected chancellor on a Friday and rushed to Paris on the following Monday to meet Francois Mitterand. Schroeder, possibly easily aggravating Paris in proposing a change in German-French relations to form a triangle to embrace also Great Britain, now is making earnest efforts to mitigate French jealousy."

FIGARO: Schroeder wants to accelerate London's close connection to Europe

Also from Paris, Figaro's is similar to that of Liberation. Figaro's editorial says: "The authorities in France think that Schroeder wants to reinstate the magic triangle - London, Berlin, Paris. The future chancellor hails from Hannover which is blown by the winds of the nearby British Isles. It is said that he feels a closer affinity with Blair than with Jospin, which is not saying much. It is probable that Schroeder wants to accelerate London's close connection to Europe."

LA STAMPA: The design seems to be a kind of triumvirate

Schroeder will need the wiliness of a Bismarck, to deal with his new political allies, suggests La Stampa, Turin. The paper says in an editorial: "Following his election triumph, the new German chancellor Schroeder must prove his leadership role on the level of political decisions. It seems almost certain that he will be flanked in the key positions by two tough and able politicians who are completely different from him. Lafontaine will become finance minister, whereas the foreign ministry is to go to Fischer, the leader of the Greens. The design seems to be a kind of triumvirate which will put to the test the leadership of the new chancellor."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Germany has a right to make its interests known

And in the International Herald Tribune, international affairs commentator William Pfaff writes that French anxiety over Schroeder's expressions of interest in Great Britain is to be expected. Pfaff writes: "Gerhard Schroeder has indicated that he would like to shift the balance inside a united Europe by creating a closer German relationship with Britain. This is pleasing in London (as in Washington), while striking anxiety in Paris."

Pfaff says: "French anxiety is inevitable, as on every occasion when there seems to be a threat to the old French-German axis, in which Germany has been economically dominant and France the political leader. This relationship always has been seen by Paris as indispensable to the dynamism of progressive European integration, as well as a guarantee of French security."

He writes: "Mr. Schroeder says Germany is an adult nation and has a right to make its interests known, or more forcefully known, in the European debate. This undoubtedly means that Germany will demand a more equitable division of the economic burden of the European Union, and the EU's expansion. The new German government is unlikely to stray from the uncontroversial foreign policy course of its predecessors. It has nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by departing from the EU consensus, which is still essentially the Atlantic consensus, with France the licensed dissenter."