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German Press Review: Where is the SPD Headed?

Chancellor Schröder's decision to resign as party chairman dominated Germany's editorial pages on Monday. Many papers doubted that Schröder's decision will help his party, the Social Democrats regain voter's support.

The General-Anzeiger in Bonn asked whether the country was seeing a new beginning, or the beginning of the end? "Schröder's fate is in Müntefering's hands," the paper wrote. It commented that Schröder's successor as party chairman, Franz Muentefering, now has to sell the chancellor's reform policies to the disgruntled party members. The paper was skeptical about Müntefering's chances of success.

The Berliner Zeitung agreed, and noted that Schröder wouldn't solve any problems by stepping down. It called Muentefering "the right man at the wrong time," and Schröder's nomination for General Secretary, Klaus Uwe Benneter, "the wrong man at any time." The paper wrote, "this change in leadership in the SPD won't give the party much of a boost. "SPD policies seem to be heading in a different direction every day -- nobody is clarifying the actual goals of reforms, or explaining why they are fair."

Other papers were less certain about the effects of changes at the top of the SPD. The Financial Times Deutschland said Schröder was at a political all-time low. "His personal image as a winner," the paper surmised, "is basically ruined." Schröder will only gain back his authority if the SPD gains support as a party; he can't remain Chancellor for very long with approval ratings at 25 percent, the paper noted. "Müntefering will have to set the course and speed for new reforms; he is the strong man in the party now," it added. "But Schröder can't rely only on Müntefering," warned the FTD and concluded: "The difficulty in implementing the current reforms may continue, and there's not much a new party chairman can do about that."

The Handelsblatt expected that the current trend toward reform will continue with Müntefering as party chairman. But, the paper complained, "it's still not clear what that will really mean for the current proposals for changes in pension and health care reform."

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung from Munich said Schröder’s and Müntefering’s political futures "completely depended on each other. And Müntefering knows that as SPD chairman he is the leader of Germanny’s ruling party."

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