The Scharping Thorn


F Germany’s Chancellor Schröder sought to contain his defense minister’s leadership aspirations by denying him the opportunity to lead nato, then his strategy has failed. Rudolf Scharping is currently proving to be a thorn in Schröder’s flesh, openly questioning his boss’s competence.

Scharping was tossed aside as a candidate for last year’s federal election following his failure as the Social Democrat Party’s (spd) candidate when he stood against Chancellor Kohl in 1994. The spd chose Schröder as their front-runner in the 1998 election, believing that his glitzy media image would swing the disaffected conservative vote away from Kohl’s Christian Democrats (cdu) to the spd. This did prove to be a winning strategy for giving the spd a turn at governing Germany, but it is not proving a successful formula for carrying the spd through the difficult economic transition which the government is seeking to impose on the republic. Though a media-friendly performer, Schröder is having difficulty maintaining discipline within his own party ranks. To add to his woes, the spd lost heavily in the initial round of state elections in Germany a couple of months ago.

The spd came to power on the promise of righting the troubled German economy. They immediately set about cutting welfare and social services. Under Schröder’s lead, the spd has simply not been able to sell its austerity package to the German public. In the meantime, unemployment festers at 4 million out of work, with East Germany still hardest hit, evidencing a 20 percent unemployment rate.

With Schröder under siege in his own party, the public turning sour and the media starting to insert its barbs into the Schröder charisma, Rudolph Scharping is starting to cut and thrust behind the scenes. The London-based Daily Telegraph reported that on October 7 Scharping met with ten of the top defense and foreign policy experts from the opposing cdu. The Telegraph reported that Scharping fed confidential information to the cdu representatives.

Yet, though the deck seems to be increasingly stacked against Chancellor Schröder, he is a survivor with few scruples about changing tactics, allegiance or policies mid-stream if it is proved to be to his benefit. It is too early to write this chameleon-like leader off. He may yet have a few rabbits to pull out of the hat prior to further state elections following winter, during which he would hope to recapture the spd vote in time for a better showing in the year 2000.