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German Press Review: SPD Plummets in Popularity

Fall is the season for reforms in Germany. After parliament passed a bill on overhauling the healthcare system, taxes, unemployment and pensions are up for voting in October. German papers focused on the planned changes.

The Berliner Zeitung on Tuesday was highly critical of the reform strategy of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats. "It’s not about putting through an idea, a vision, a direction -- not to mention a social democratic one.... Lack of planning for the future has become a synonym for strategy, and chaos a synonym for order," the paper commented. It stressed, "It’s not the loss of voters that’s the main problem for the Social Democrats. It’s the loss of respect that the party still had a little while ago -- respect for its history and for itself."

The General-Anzeiger from Bonn attempted to explain the loss of popular support for the Social Democrats and the subsequent gain for the opposition conservative Christian Democrat Union, which is reporting a 50 percent approval rating among voters. "Even in the opinion of the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, the work of the government is without direction. The constant instability has a lot to do with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s style of governance, based on trial-and-error," the paper wrote. It observed, "If a plan doesn’t work from day-to-day, it’s pulled back and replaced. And plans are becoming less and less clear to the public."

The Saarbrücker Zeitung was only slightly more sympathetic for the Social Democrats’ difficulties. It commented, "The poor Social Democrats. Many of them have to pull back from their plans and ideologies, otherwise the country won’t let itself be reformed." It said that the SPD is now experiencing what most citizens are experiencing, namely the need to make a sacrifice to achieve one’s goals. "But what’s missing," the paper observed, "is a perspective on the sacrifice. That’s been totally forgotten in the whole social democratic in-fighting of the last few days and weeks."

Express, a tabloid from Cologne, took the issue one step further and predicted new general elections in the future. "What so many people have feared is now happening. Now that the summer break is over, nothing is left from the reform ideas of the red-green coalition," the paper wrote referring to the proposals of the federal coalition between Social Democrats and the Greens party. "You can spin it any way you like, but red-green and the chancellor are ultimately responsible for the government. If their reforms fail, there’s only one way out, as the head of the Greens, Reinhard Buetikofer said: revote."

The Abendzeitung from Munich attempted to explain the why Chancellor Schröder has such a low popularity rating within his own coalition. "Self-confident people – and parliamentarians are self-confident people – align themselves with leaders who have a vision," the paper wrote. It said, "If the leader can’t explain where he’s taking them, they’ll quickly threaten to leave. They end up wounded and want to hit back at the leader. With these reforms, Schröder has made himself progressively more unpopular with his supporters. And the opposition isn’t really planning to help him."

The Markische Oderzeitung agreed, and added that the opposition Christian Democrats are also disorganized: "The confusion on the opposition side has to do with their complicated strategy not to refuse Schröder’s reforms, but at the same time to stoke the flames of the conflict in the Social Democratic Party. Like a vacuum-cleaner, the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union have sucked up the frustrations of voters disappointed with the red-green coalition. Despite the good results in recent elections, the opposition is showing great inconsistency."

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