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Germany

Schröder Draws the Line Between U.S., Germany

Launching the final leg of his reelection bid, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warns against an invasion of Iraq and says Germany should not look to the U.S. as an economic role model.

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Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democratic Parties are hoping for a "V for Victory" on Sept. 22.

Plagued by his party's repeated poor standing in recent polls, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder launched the Social Democratic Party's national campaign tour three weeks earlier than planned on Monday.

Speaking before 5,000 people in his hometown of Hanover, Schröder launched the final phase of his campaign by indirectly criticizing the United States' military "adventurism," and defending Europe's social market system, saying Germans should go their own way in these areas rather than looking to the U.S. as a role model.

He also sought to rally the troops behind his party, which is flagging behind the opposition Union bloc.

"The SPD is setting out to win this election," Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chairman and Chancellor Schröder told the crowd. At one point, Schröder and his wife, Doris Schröder-Kopf, held their fingers out in a "V" shape to symbolize victory.

U.S. no longer a role model

But the most notable portions of Schröder's speech came as he sought to distance his party from economic and military trends in the United States.

Schröder said it "certainly needs to be reconsidered" whether the U.S. economy should be used as an economic example. He said the "fleecing of little people in the United States," through golden parachute severance packages was "not the German way."

"It's not what we want for our people," he said, emphasizing that the country had achieved its strength on the basis of its advanced social market system. Under the German model, he said, employers and employees should be able to face each other on equal footing.

Monday's statements were Schröder's strongest worded response yet to the U.S. debate over whether to expand the international war on terrorism into Iraq and the recent string of corporate scandals that have damaged faith both domestically and abroad in American executive management and bookkeeping practices.

Calling for "new ethics" among the country's business leaders, Schröder said business leaders need to recognize their responsibility in the country's social market system.

An uphill battle

The Chancellor also criticized the recent drop in the number of apprenticeships available to young Germans as they leave school – both in the eastern and western states. He urged businesses to "take care of apprenticeships in companies, that's your duty."

The opposition's chancellor candidate, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber of the Christian Social Union, has repeatedly attacked Schröder for the weak state of the German economy. On Wednesday, the Federal Labor Office will release unemployment statistics for the month of July, and several important think tanks and national newspapers are reporting that the figure is expected to come in above the psychologically important four million mark, with some estimating as many as 4.11 million unemployed.

In recent weeks, Schröder has also been dogged by criticism over his alleged role in the ouster of Deutsche Telekom CEO Ron Sommer and the resignation of Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping after it was revealed he accepted an advance payment on his memoirs from a Frankfurt PR executive who has served as both a friend and personal banker to a handful of Germany's top politicians.

Last week, the polling institute Forsa released a survey showing that the Social Democrats were on track to receive 35 percent of the vote. The Christian Democrats were estimated at 42 percent, a three-point slip over the previous week.

Against those political storm clouds, senior SPD leaders will be traveling in a large blue semi-truck equipped with its own soundstage, stumping in more than 77 cities and electoral districts. Schröder will first hop on the bandwagon on August 23. But it's a long upward haul until election day on September 22, and Schröder will need more than the truck's 400 horsepower to get there.

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