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Europe

German Press Reivew: New SPD Chief Adopts Reform Course

Monday's newspapers commented on the Social Democrats' election of Franz Münterering as the new party leader. The SPD vote came after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder stepped down as the party chief a month ago.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich wrote that the new SPD chief, who has promised to continue on Schröder's course of social reforms, enjoys the confidence of party members. "That is an important pre-requisite to get the party back on its feet again," it said. "The situation in the country and political trends are such that the SPD would stand no chance to regain a majority if it went back on its reform agenda. Germany needs the changes," the daily noted. Müntefering will not backtrack, the paper surmised, describing the new party chief as a traditional Social Democrat who stands fully behind the reforms of Schröder.

The Stuttgarter Zeitung pointed out that this Thursday Schröder will outline his government’s policies for the country until 2006. "The chancellor's task will be to prove that the red-green coalition [Social Democrats and Greens] can carry out those policies," the paper said. "Müntefering, on the other hand is responsible for defining the SPD and its direction." The paper commented that the new party leader must show clearly what the SPD is and that its profile matches the government’s plan of action. "The Social Democrats are now fighting for their future and their new beginning with the appointment of Müntefering as party leader could succeed," the paper suggested, but it warned that Franz Müntefering must realize that there are many political risks involved.

In a short but concise commentary, the regional Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung described Müntefering not only as the SPD boss and Chancellor Schröder’s aide but also as the man responsible for setting the party’s long term goals. "The first step for the SPD chief," according to the paper, "will be stopping the party’s downward trend and restoring the SPD’s influence in the states and municipalities." Müntefering’s first test will be the North Rhine-Westphalia elections in the Autumn, the paper predicted. It cautioned that the organizational skills, which the new SPD boss definitely has will not be enough. Looking into the near future, the paper forecasted the "double headed" leadership of Schröder and Müntefering as a relationship of conflict. This tandem leadership could lead not only to new chances and opportunities but also to larger risks, the paper concluded.

The Badische Zeitung observed that the SPD’s plan for staying in power was to divide power. The appointment of Müntefering as the party chief is essentially an admission by Schröder of his failure to convince the SPD basis of the need to push through his reform plans, the paper argued. "Müntefering’s appointment is partly due to the fact that he has spoken out in support of the need for Schroder’s social reforms despite their widespread unpopularity in the party," the paper wrote. "However the unity between these two men will not be sufficient to bring the SPD forward," the southern German daily noted. "Müntefering would like to have the absolute support of the SPD members, but this would be of little use to him without economic recovery in Germany."

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