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Germany

Schröder and Fischer to Run for Third Term

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder says he’s going to run for third term in 2006 with Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as his co-pilot. The decision ends speculation Fischer may be headed for Brussels.

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Schröder and Fischer want to lead Germany beyond 2006.

In a surprise move Thursday, a German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder confirmed he and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer plan to run for a third term in the 2006 national election. The announcement comes amid a steep drop in popularity ratings for Schröder's Social Democrats as the attempt to implement painful economic and social reforms.

In taking the decision, the Green Party's Fischer has abandoned any intention of becoming a candidate for the future office of European Union foreign minister in Brussels -- at least for now.

In an interview televised Thursday night, Schröder sought to assuage critics who complained he had taken too long to make up his mind. "I could have announced my decision at an earlier stage," he said, "but then you have to consider that such a move gravely affects one’s personal life and my family, and it had to be carefully coordinated with my party first. This is why I didn’t rush things."

Difficult reforms

The Social Democrats have suffered a free-fall in popularity since the general election last September due to at least in part their inability to effectively articulate their economic and social reform drive to the public. The party now trails the conservative opposition by as much as 14 percentage points in public opinion polls. The government’s planned cuts in the country’s welfare system have alienated many of the party's core voters. By announcing his decision to stand again, the chancellor obviously wanted to send out a signal that he does not intend to pass on the buck to someone else when it comes to implementing his difficult reform package.

Olaf Scholz

Olaf Scholz

In a hastily convened press conference, SPD general secretary Olaf Scholz welcomed the move. "There’s wide-spread agreement in our party that we want to win the 2006 election again," he said. "With Gerhard Schröder at the helm, it worked well twice in the past, and it will work again in 2006 with him – and only with him."

Schröder first took office in 1998 in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens. Voters reelected the same coalition last September by the narrowest margin in Germany’s post-war history. In the past few years, Schröder repeatedly insisted he would only serve until 2006, saying that eight years in office would be a sufficient amount of time. But in recent weeks, the chancellor had been less outspoken when asked about the possibility of running for a third term, largely due to the lack of a viable successor within his party.

There has been considerable speculation in recent months that Schröder might send Fischer to Brussels to take either the post of EU foreign minister if the constitution calling for the position is passed by EU member countries. Barring that development, Fischer would also have been a serious candidate for a post on the European Commission in Brussels, which will be replace its existing commissioners in 2004.

Opposition to circle wagons

Unsettled by Schröder’s plan to run again, opposition politicians are already battening down the hatches for a tough campaign. Guido Westerwelle, who leads the neo-liberal Free Democratic Party, called Schröder’s plan to seek reelection a "menace to society" and pledged to thwart Schröder’s candidacy.

The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) also took shots at Schröder. "Germany is grappling with enormous problems in reforming the economy and its social system," said the party’s general secretary, Laurenz Meyer. "And the chancellor has nothing to do but publicly moot his own political future. What a disgrace! You cannot help but conclude that he’s out to deceive the public and distract from the country’s current economic woes."

Despite his current political woes there is still good news for the chancellor: the Social Democrats maybe be wallowing in public opinion polls, but a recent survey by the Forsa Institute found that 51 percent of Germans would still support a third Schröder candidacy.

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