After running Germany and sparring with some the world's most powerful leaders for seven years, Gerhard Schröder could be excused for taking a rest. But the ex-chancellor has no intention of putting his feet up.
Ex-chancellor; media consultant, businessman, student and beer connoisseur
Less than three weeks after leaving office, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has reinvented himself as an international businessman with concerns in Russia and Switzerland.
Schröder wasted no time in making a clean break with politics after he handed the reins of power to Angela Merkel on November 22. But his decision to delve into the world of international business has not been without a political fallout.
On Friday, the chairman of Russian energy giant Gazprom, Alexei Miller, announced that Schröder would head the shareholders' committee of the consortium building a controversial gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
The announcement came just after the ceremonial launch of construction of the North European Gas Pipeline, in which Gazprom owns a 51-percent stake and Germany's E.ON and BASF own 24.5-percent stakes.
The appointment of Schröder, who helped secure the deal for the four-billion-euro ($4.7-billion) pipeline earlier this year while he was still chancellor, has already sparked questions of potential conflict of interest and debate about the need for regulations for retired politicians moving into business.
While newspaper commentators generally agreed the pipeline
project was useful, they said Schröder's move raised fresh
questions about the links between big business and politics and the cosy relations with Putin when in office.
"It stinks," Greens co-leader Richard Bütikofer, whose
party was in power with Schröder's Social Democrats when the pipeline deal was struck, told Tagesspiegel newspaper.
"The problem is that he pursued a policy for the federal republic which he will now draw private benefit from," argued Dirk Niebel of the opposition Free Democrats.
There had long been speculation that Schröder, 61, was planning to trade in politics for the business world and more specifically that he would take on a high-level post in Russia's energy sector.
Close relationship with Putin pays off
Political counterparts and personal friends: Putin and Schröder.
During his seven years in office, Schröder built up a close personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he often visited privately.
In Germany, many criticized Schröder's friendship with the Russian leader, particularly his silence on Moscow's policies in the Caucuses and its hard line in the Yukos oil saga.
The news that Schröder will be sitting on the board of the gas pipeline casts a new "smudgy light" on the former government's cool relations with Poland and the Baltic States, who were left out of the pipeline project, the Berlin Tagesspiegel wrote on Saturday.
However, the German chairman of corruption watchdog
Transparency International said there was no reason for alarm. "A supervisory board post is in our view certainly something that a former prominent politician can take up," Hansjoerg Elshorst told Tagesspiegel.
"One can only talk of abuse if Schröder receives excessive reward," he said.
Media chancellor turns media consultant
Schröder was equally at home in front of the camera as he was the lecturn.
Far less critical was Schröder's decision to dabble in media. The man often called the media chancellor for his skill in playing to the cameras has accepted a job as an advisor to leading Swiss media group, Ringier.
The group publishes the Blick tabloid, Switzerland's top-selling newspaper, and also has interests in Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam.
The post at Zurich-based Ringier came as something of a surprise as Schröder had told the German press he intended to return to his first profession of practicing law.
English lessons to broaden future horizons
"What did Tony say?"
Perhaps to smooth his way in the business world, the former chancellor has started brushing up on his English, which he has always freely admitted to be poor. According to German press reports, he has recently been improving his English skills in the small town of Montgomery on the border of England and Wales.
They said Schröder was taking private courses aimed at "business and professional people" at Park House school, situated in an 18th century country house in Montgomery, and had been seen enjoying a few glasses of wine at the local pub, The Dragon Hotel, in his free time.
The Social-Democrat has never made a secret of enjoying the good life and is an ardent soccer fan, something which has now also found a mention on his curriculum vitae.
Soccer fanaticism honored by DFB
Nasty tracksuit, good technique: Schröder on the ball.
The German Football Federation (DFB) on Friday made him an honorary member for his support for Germany's successful bid to host the 2006 World Cup and for the organization of the tournament, which will be played in 12 German cities from June 9 to July 9 next year.
In the meanwhile, Schröder is also writing his political memoirs, which he hopes to publish next autumn.