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Europe

German Press Review: Ash Wednesday Politics

German papers on Thursday discussed Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's upcoming trip to the U.S. as well as the rhetoric emerging from Germany's political parties in their traditional "Ash Wednesday" meetings.

Editorial pages agreed that Schröder and U.S. President George W. Bush's meeting in Washington is motivated by their desire to court votes for upcoming elections. The Neues Deutschland from Berlin wrote that it wasn't so long ago that Bush didn't even want talk to Schröder on the telephone. Now they're going to eat lunch together. The paper predicted that Schröder won't tell Bush anymore that the Iraq War was immoral. The chancellor said that during the last election -- when he needed to say it to get elected. Bush in turn isn't going to remind his guest about how wrong he thinks Schroeder was about the Iraq War, because good-looking foreign relations will help Bush get votes, the daily guessed.

The Pforzheimer Zeitung thought that suddenly the U.S. needs the "old Europe" because Bush got himself into a dead-end in the Iraq War that he can't get out of without help. The reconstruction of Iraq costs too much and the situation there is too unstable for the allied forces to maintain something that even approaches peace over the long-term. That's why Schroeder can enter the White House proudly now, according to the paper.

On to the "Ash Wednesday" meetings of German political parties, where conservative opposition leader Edmund Stoiber criticized the ruling Social Democrats on a number of fronts, including their support of Turkish entry talks into the European Union. The Ostsee-Zeitung from Rostock said it's expectable that the conservatives would play the Turkey card in the upcoming election -- not least because the conservatives have already won elections by playing on fears of foreign infiltration and other excessive demands on the country. One example was the victory of the Premier of Hessen, Roland Koch, who had campaigned against certain kinds of double-citizenship, the paper wrote.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung meanwhile analyzed the words of Franz Müntefering, who will succeed Schröder as Social Democratic party chairman in March. He said that the time isn't right to reduce taxes further in Germany and that anyone who makes promises to do so "fritters away the money that we urgently need for children and schools." Müntefering sees himself bound to the social democratic tradition of big government that mixes itself up with the economic and life plans of people and companies, to try to do them good, the paper wrote. Müntefering's ideas, it added, cannot be equated with the more free vision of a state that is a part of the tax reform plans of the opposition Christian and Free Democrats.

And the Handelsblatt from Düsseldorf criticized all the parties for losing the trust of the voters. Germans are taking away their approval for the German political elite in worrisome numbers. The paper compared German opinion to the kind of loss of trust that many people had, the last time there was a crash on the stock market.