The German parliament pondered the ethical implications associated with former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's decision to take a top position on a Russian-German energy project so quickly after leaving office.
Schröder enjoys excellent relations with Russian President Putin
The news that Schröder would head the supervisory board of the North European Gas Pipeline (NGEP) less than one month after leaving the chancellor's office met with immediate disapproval from parliamentary conservatives Thursday, opening cracks in the governing grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.
The lively parliamentary debate also saw opposition members question the judgment of getting involved in the 4-billon-euro ($4.7-billion) project Schröder himself was partly responsible for creating.
"Schröder crossed a line and discredited all of politics in the eyes of the people," Edmund Stoiber, head Christian Social Union, told the Münchner Merkur newspaper Thursday.
Schröder supported by SPD
Müntefering put his support behind Schröder
Though the grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats did not want to take an official stand on the former German chancellor's position, opposition leaders managed to earn enough votes to summon Vice Chancellor Franz Müntefering (photo) to the plenary session.
One of Schröder's closest confidents, Müntefering said it was not up to the current administration to make judgments on what kinds of work former politicians should or should not accept. He also said he was convinced Schröder would act in Germany's best interest.
"I'm personally glad he did it," Müntefering said. "It is a strategic project for all of Europe."
Earlier this week Schröder defended his new post, calling it an honor to lead the project that would bring gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. The pipeline project is 51 percent owned by Russia's Gazprom, while the German firms E.ON and BASF hold 24.5 percent each through their gas units.
Social Democratic head and former defense minister under Schröder, Peter Struck, also said Schröder's participation in the project would be good for Germany.
Opposition calls for about-face
The pipeline will deliver Russian gas to Germany
Leading free market liberal FDP parliamentarian Wolfgang Gerhardt, on the other hand, contended "it is not in Germany's interest" for Schröder to take a position in a company "that is significantly run by the Kremlin."
"German-Russian relations are important, but they shouldn't be used to sweep under the carpet what the former chancellor is doing here," Gerhardt said. "Gerhard Schröder has no regard for the principals that he represented with the active support of the Social Democrats."
Christian Democrat Hermann Gröhe also distanced himself from Schröder's decision, saying it "raised many questions."
Members of the Green party, which was the junior governing partner in Schröder's administration, and the Left Party, made up mainly of members of the former communist PDS, appealed to Schröder to change his mind and turn down the position.