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German Press Review: The Social Democratic Self-Help Group

German commentators focused on Tuesday on the dire state of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democratic Party.

The Berlin-based Neues Deutschland newspaper referred to SPD chairman Franz Müntefering’s policy speech, in which he stressed that the party is needed, but it is not sure what for. The daily commented that the contradiction between the claim that the SPD wants to rescue the social market economy and the price that is being demanded from those most in need cannot be bridged with optimistic predictions about the future. Reducing social benefits more "professionally" than the conservatives, the paper concluded, is a dubious claim for Social Democrats. Müntefering’s announcement that his party has “not yet finished with its mission” is starting to sound like a threat.

The Ostsee-Zeitung in Rostock compared the SPD to a self-help group that -- deeply traumatized because of continuing election routs -- is hoping to recover of its own accord. Party chief Müntefering, it said, is acting like a kind of psychotherapist trying to inject self-confidence into the unsettled comrades. However, the masseur of the soul can barely think of anything other than activating the power instinct according to the principle: we want to govern and have no desire to go into the opposition.

The Stuttgarter Nachrichten wrote that Müntefering symbolizes a helpless party in transition from reverie to reforms. Ever more likely also from government to opposition. It’s not yet sure, the paper quips, whether Müntefering wants to be the organizer of this transition or whether he is just a transitional solution.

Munich’s TZ tabloid surmised that the beneficiary of the SPD’s crisis is the crumbling labor union movement, whose importance is again on the rise in view of the cuts in social benefits linked to Chancellor Schröder’s “Agenda 2010.” However, the TZ continued, there is also a downside to this, for criticism of the government by the unions may in the end lead to its downfall, and with the conservatives in power the labor unions would just be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Another Munich daily, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, commented on the drama surrounding the South Korean being held hostage in Iraq. It said Seoul’s loyalty to Washington has constantly been put to the test since George W. Bush took office. First, there is the USA’s uncompromising policy on North Korea, which virtually ignores South Korea’s desire for peace and reconciliation. Then, only recently, the United States announced, without first consulting Seoul, that it was pulling one-third of its troops out of South Korea. For the South Korean government, reconciling the calls for a more independent foreign policy with the necessary loyalty towards the alliance partner has been a difficult balancing act for quite some time. Through the hostage drama, the daily wrote, this threatens to become even more difficult.

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