Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 13
3 April 2000

News Review for Germany C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Germany
News highlights and analysis
since 27 March 2000

Jens Boysen

Right woman

Germany's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), heavily shaken by the scandal surrounding former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's secret party financing throughout the 1990s, is about to change its outlook and, possibly, its internal conduct. As the core part of its comprehensive attempt at reanimation as a serious rival of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD), the forthcoming (9 to 11 April) national CDU party congress in Essen is expected to give - for the first time in German party history - the party chair to a woman. Incumbent party Secretary General Angela Merkel was, in 1990, spokeswoman for the first and only democratically elected GDR government and was consequently reared by Helmut Kohl as his personal protégée. Deputy chairwoman of the CDU since 1991, she was subsequently federal Minister for Women and Youth (1991 to 1994) and of the Environment (1994 to 1998). During the CDU crisis, she managed to ride the wave which buried most of the old party leadership and to outflank several (male) competitors.

Although a member of the Kohl-invested party establishment, Merkel - contrary to Wolfgang Schäuble who, in February, was forced to resign as both party chairman and parliamentary group leader - acquired the reputation of a reformer within the party, by being the first one to criticise Kohl for his party-damaging silence about the donors of "black," unregistered, funds, which the former Chancellor had used to support selected regional party bodies and to co-finance election campaigns in the east of Germany. As one consequence of Kohl's tax-evading conduct, the CDU has been fined more than DM 40 million (EUR 20 million) by Bundestag (federal Parliament) President Wolfgang Thierse, with party debts now totalling around DM 100 million (EUR 50 million).

Going east?

Merkel's nomination as candidate for the party chair is regarded by some as a "triple revolution" in the CDU, given the fact that she is a woman, a Protestant and - although Hamburg-born - from the east of Germany. By supporting Merkel, the CDU is seen as parting with its post-war tradition as the party of the widely, though not entirely, Catholic middle class, anchored in the Rhineland and southern Germany. Not surprisingly, the most serious reservations against Merkel's rise have come from Edmund Stoiber, Bavarian minister president and chairman of the Christlich Soziale Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister. Themselves untouched by the crisis of the Kohl party, the right-wing CSU's strongmen are believed to be suspicious of Merkel as an East German and for being "too liberal."

A future Chancelloress?

Stoiber's uneasiness about Merkel might have been increased by the results of a recent poll which showed that in a direct competition with incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD), Merkel would receive just as many votes as her opponent - 39 per cent. In contrast, Stoiber would lose out against the Social Democrat with only 32 per cent against Schröder's 44 per cent. This poll mirrors a general problem the CSU has faced on the national level. As it stands, in exchange for maintaining an independent (and distinctly right-wing) party organisation next to the CDU, for practically "owning" the Land of Bavaria since 1946 and for securing for this region a "special role" within the nation-state, the CSU has always been highly unpopular with the CDU's regional party bodies, to say nothing of liberal voters. As a consequence, no Bavarian leader has ever stood a chance of leading a federal government as Chancellor. Legendary Minister President Franz Josef Strauss, who, 12 years after his death, still remains a "father figure" for any CSU leader, managed in 1980 to be nominated by both the CDU and the CSU as their Chancellor candidate but lost infamously against the SPD's Helmut Schmidt, when the liberal Free Democratic Party managed to persuade a record number of liberal conservatives to defect from the centre-right camp in order to "prevent Strauss."

Against this background, Angela Merkel, if successful as party chairwoman, might well also gain support as the CDU's candidate for Chancellor in 2002.

Left woman

Heide Simonis, who on Tuesday was re-elected as minister president of the northernmost German Land of Schleswig-Holstein, can be regarded as the Social Democrats' counterpart to Angela Merkel. Germany's only female head of a Land government since 1993, she will lead, for the third time, a "Red-Green" government, this time one with male-female parity. The SPD's victory in the Land elections of 27 February, in which it gained some four per cent, was considerably helped by the CDU's national crisis; and it was for this reason, too, that Schleswig-Holstein's CDU front runner Volker Rühe's position as challenger to Angela Merkel for the post of party chairperson was decisively weakened. In contrast, Simonis's victory has also strengthened her position as SPD deputy party chairwoman.

Greens come of age

The Green Party has, for a long time, been characterised by an "idealist" approach to representational matters, a habit that the national party congress of 25 to 26 March has partially broken with. At earlier congresses, party deputies went to extreme lengths to make sure that current affairs were entrusted to a collective leadership within which the genders as well as the party wings were represented. From 1990, provenance from East and West Germany joined up as a third criterion. When in office, usually as partner to the Social Democrats, and notably since 1998 on the national level, the Greens have regularly been hit hard by the demands of Realpolitik: generally treated by their SPD partners without much mercy, they have been pushed as far as going to war over Kosovo. Worse still, a number of elections over the recent years have seen them losing their traditional appeal to young voters, who have increasingly turned to the centre-right. In eastern Germany, the party, which emerged from a very West German brand of leftist bourgeoisie, has been extremely weak, following reunification. In order to restore its profile, the congress resolved to be more pragmatic with respect to personnel policy, for example, to allow two "left-wingers" on the board, but to still secure east German representation on the party board of spokespersons. On the other hand, the party's identity, as defined through its original party programme, is to be strengthened, notably regarding renewed opposition to nuclear energy and the arms trade.

Ex occidente luxus – but for how long?

Germany's minister presidents, the Länder heads of government, met on Wednesday to negotiate the future funding of the "new Länder" of east Germany under the "Solidarity Pact" scheme, the first period of which runs out at the end of 2004. While the east German minister presidents underscored their need for continued support on an aggregate scale of DM 300 billion (EUR 150 million), their richer west German counterparts – notably the south German "net payers" – ever eager to limit their expenses, generally agreed to continue the funding (under the banner "Solidarity Pact II for 2005 to 2014") but called on their eastern colleagues to increase their own revenue.

Since 1995, the east German regions have received about DM 57 billion (EUR 28.5 billion) of "solidary help" annually, of which DM 20 billion (EUR 10 billion) were paid from the federal budget and DM 37 billion (EUR 18.5 billion) from the inter-Länder compensation system (Lastenausgleich).

Human re-patriation?

Already in November 1999, the same minister presidents had resolved to start, in spring 2000, sending back home the some 170,000 Kosovar Albanians who took refuge in Germany during the war in Yugoslavia. Transport resources have already been earmarked for an initial group of 60,000 persons, who correspondingly may be sent back any moment.

The UN High Commissoner for Refugees as well as humanitarian organisations working in Kosovo have called on the German and other European governments not to act in haste. In their view, with the situation in Kosovo far from stabilised and KFOR and UNMIK visibly unable to guarantee public security, it would be most damaging to the reconstruction process to enlarge the regional population by tens of thousands of repatriates, bound to be unemployed and disoriented. This would be in contradiction to the ambitious EU-led "Stabilisation Plan for South-East Europe."

Due to a lack of co-ordination and solidarity within the EU, Germany, during both the Bosnian and the Kosovo war, took in a relatively large share of refugees, along with small countries such as Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and the non-EU member Switzerland, while France and Britain only accepted modest numbers.

A just war?

Germany's troubles with the legacy of the war in Yugoslavia do not end there. Minister of Defence Rudolf Scharping (SPD), who rose to unexpected public stature as a major proponent of the West's "humanitarian war" in Kosovo, is coming under increasing fire from most parties in the Bundestag. He has been charged with deliberately withholding information about the danger posed to German soldiers by the US Air Force's use of shells clad in "depleted uranium" (DU) during the campaign. The ground hit by these shells is regarded as contaminated, if only slightly, and thus dangerous to army personnel working on it. Scharping has refused the charges, stating that he had informed the Chairman of the Bundestag's Defence Committee as soon as finding out himself about it from NATO headquarters in September 1999.

But Scharping has to face another, even more general, accusation. Notably, some former officers have come out to question the substance of what Scharping and other Western leaders had presented in early 1999 as the Yugoslav "Operation Horseshoe," an apparently well-designed plan for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. It was against this plan that the NATO action was said to be principally directed. Now, there seems to be confusion in government circles as to the actual nature of the Yugoslav actions and to the origin of the related information. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's claim that it had been obtained from the Bulgarian secret service has been denied in Sofia.

Memories of perestroika

During his state visit to Georgia, Chancellor Schröder pledged himself to further supporting the Caucasus republic with DM 60 million (EUR 30 million), bringing the sum of German aid to Tbilissi since 1992 up to DM 600 million (EUR 300 million). Lauding Georgian President Edvard Shevardnadze's government as a major pillar of stability in the Caucasus, Schröder called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Chechnya and to admit a permanent OSCE presence in the region. He also advocated stronger political engagement of the EU in the area.

German-Georgian relations are close, not least owing to the great mutual respect between Shevardnadze, who, as Michail Gorbachev's foreign minister, played a crucial role in enabling the Germans to reunite in 1990, and senior German politicians. Arguably the most prominent of these, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, accompanied the Chancellor to Tiflis. Genscher was foreign minister from 1974 to 1992 and thus Shevardnadze's counterpart during those crucial years. He was endowed with Georgian honorary citizenship, while Schröder was awarded the Order of the Golden Veal, Georgia's highest order of merit.

Jens Boysen , 31 March 2000


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Süddeutsche Zeitung

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