by Katja Hoyer
Monday, 7
March 2022
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10:15

Gerhard Schröder’s legacy will be forever tainted

The ex-Chancellor's position on Russia is indefensible
by Katja Hoyer
Gerhard Schroeder (R) and Vladimir Putin (L), 2005. Credit: Getty

Gerhard Schröder’s reputation is in tatters. Seventeen years after finishing his term as Chancellor, he is now facing heavy criticism for his bullish defence of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany has rightly distanced itself from the man whose affable charm it had once fallen for.

For years, Schröder strove to establish an ‘elder statesman’ role for himself in line with his predecessors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. But he struggled to define his role. With the exception of the short-lived tenures of Ludwig Erhard and Kurt Georg Kiesinger, every German post-war chancellor before him had been era-defining in some way. Konrad Adenauer founded West Germany and anchored it in the West; Willy Brandt modernised the country and opened it to the East. Helmut Schmidt defended democracy against terrorism; Helmut Kohl reunified the country in 1990. But what was Schröder’s contribution?

His tenure started in 1998 with great potential. Germans were fed up with the tired rigidity of the Kohl administration. East Germans in particular were hoping a Social Democrat might make good on the failed promises of reunification. Often seen joking, drinking beer and talking to ordinary people, Schröder’s humble background and relative youth made him the man to modernise the country. He had grand ambitions for Germany too, saying that the “gulf between our self-perception” and “the expectations from outside” was too wide. He wanted to boost the country’s confidence as a “middle power” on the world stage.

But instead of increasing Germany’s geopolitical prestige, Schröder dented it. He was the architect of the Nord Stream pipelines, the contracts for which were signed just ten days before he lost the 2005 election. He has since taken leadership roles in the Russian companies Gazprom and Rosneft as well as becoming the chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG (a role he took on only 17 days after his chancellorship had ended). In this regard, Schröder’s legacy will forever be tainted by the way he entangled the fate of Germany with his personal business interests.

Not even Russian aggression in Ukraine has been able to trigger a sense of remorse over his close personal ties to Putin and his regime. Instead the ex-chancellor further disgraced himself by accusing Ukraine of “sabre-rattling” and defending his friends in Moscow. Now three-quarters of Germans want him excluded from the SPD, the current chancellor Olaf Scholz has called on him to consider that a chancellor’s “obligation does not end when one no longer holds the office.” Die Welt even sees his behaviour as ‘bordering on treason.’

Schröder has lost dozens of honourable positions in politics, media, sport and with charities. Only his ex-wife Doris Schröder-Köpf, who sees a role for him as an ‘honest broker’ in the ongoing conflict, and his current wife, Soyeon Schröder-Kim, are still on his side.

He is the architect of his own downfall and the only thing to do now is to step away from the public sphere. This should include giving up his tax-payer funded office in Berlin, where many of his staff have already walked out on him in protest.

Gerhard Schröder has to accept that there is no place for him in German politics anymore. If he stays, he will only bring further disgrace to his party and country.

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Richard Powell
Richard Powell
8 months ago

It would also be good to hear a little less about how wonderful Angela Merkel has been – just five days ago Andrew Adonis praised her in Prospect as ‘foremost” among “the most successful and modest leaders of democracies”.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

There are seriously calls to get her to take on some kind of mediation role in this conflict which I think is a dreadful idea.
I’ll steal a good German phrase (which, given the subject matter of the article, is quite apropos) and say “Man würde damit den Bock zum Gärtner machen“.
This translates literally to: by doing that, you would be appointing the billy goat as the gardener. Meaning that you are putting the source of the problem in charge.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

The backlash against Merkel being seen as a great leader has already started in Germany.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ian Stewart
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Some good news today!

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

She was a multi-layered disaster cake.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Powell

Merkel: 2011, ditch nuclear; go gas; hold a Council of Minister’s meeting with the Chinese counterpart in Berlin; sideline the UK and Brexit; stamp on Greece to remind France; screw the French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian economies. Basically, Schroeder 2.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jonathan Story
Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
8 months ago

Gerhard Schröder was the number one reason why I supported Brexit. To have European foreign policy directed by that type of character, totally unaccountable to most Europeans, was unacceptable.

Franz Von Peppercorn
Franz Von Peppercorn
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

Big discussion at the time, if I recall.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

The noughties were a good example of the old saying that “good times make bad leaders”. Blair, Schroder, Chirac, Sarkozy, Bush, Clinton, Berlusconi, all very unserious people. Those bad leaders have now created bad times – the global financial crisis, the rise of China, Russia, etc.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
8 months ago

You think it’s got better in the last 10 years? Trump, Cameron, Johnson, Putin, Macron, Biden, Trudeau, not Corbyn thank god, and now, at last, the acknowledgement that Merkel wasn’t that great either.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Touché!

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

What did Trump do wrong? I seem to recall fewer rather than more wars, open dialogues with all world leaders, a willingness to stand up to fringe woke ideals, a thriving US economy that was starting to work in everyone’s interest and less on the global elites and Wall Street bankers, a tougher stance on China and Iran, a move of manufacturing back to the US, increased jobs, fuel independency, improved border control. I really don’t see how that compares to leaders like Trudeau, Biden, Macron, etc.

Kathleen Stern
Kathleen Stern
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Agree. Getting him out was a hatchet job in my opinion

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walshe

5 wives!!!

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
8 months ago

I don’t believe a word of it. Schroeder’s pro-Russian stance is exactly aligned with: Hermany’s militant pacifism; German business’ interest in Russia-China; by now, Germany’s embedded anti-Americanism.