Chirac for Schröder? German Views

Yes, it’s true: Chirac wird Bundeskanzler, Chirac becomes the German Chancellor. For Friday’s session of the EU summit of heads of state/government in Brussels, neither Gerhard Schröder nor his foreign minister Joschka Fischer plan to be present. In their stead, French President Jacques Chirac will represent both French and German interests. The two German leaders feel that they’re rather more urgently needed back in Berlin in the Bundestag that day, where it seems every single SPD/Green coalition vote will be needed to pass a raft of labor-reform laws which some call “Hartz IV” (after the Hartz Commission, chaired by Peter Hartz, a Volkswagen executive, which called for such reforms).

I got the “heads-up” about this from Tobias Schwarz’ mention in “Fistful of Euros.” But what are the Germans themselves writing about this?

A good place to start is the Der Spiegel article Schwarz mentions in his “Fistful” entry, Chirac Jumps In for the Chancellor. The overwhelming impression from that article is that, although this gesture is certainly unprecedented, it’s also perfectly safe. As the article notes, “On Friday in Brussels it won’t be a matter anymore of any earth-shaking decisions.” What will be going on is simply the final session of the summit, scheduled to last one or two hours, at which the assembled heads of state/government will decide on the summit’s conclusions and how they should be reported in the final communiqué. In any event, top German diplomats will be available just outside the door, in case something important comes up and Chancellor Schröder needs to be referred to for a decision.

So far, so good. You’d think there would be no problem with this unusual and unprecedented arrangement, which enables Schröder and Fischer to be back in Berlin doing some important political fire-fighting there, while bringing Chirac into the picture in a manner that is heavily symbolic but not really risky to German interests. Indeed, Commission President Romano Prodi is delighted; in the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s coverage, Chirac Speaks for Schröder, he is quoted as saying, “I view this with great goodwill. If the usual barriers can be overcome here, then I hope that this can be repeated.” Schröder himself, at a mini-summit in Paris last Sunday which is when the idea was apparently proposed and agreed to, emphasized the “seamless agreement on European questions” that the two countries share.

But there’s always got to be someone to spoil the party, and who better than the political opposition? The displeasure of most from the CDU party in Germany about this arrangement is brought up in a later Spiegel article, Controversy over Schröder’s Representation Solution. To some CDU politicians, Schröder is violating his duties to be personally present at EU summits to safeguard and advocate German interests himself. After all, what we’re talking about here is a summit on the future EU Constitution! But the article essentially takes the government’s side, also citing the fact that Friday’s business is not supposed to be too terribly serious. In fact, it quotes CDU MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Elmer Brok’s look on the bright side: “Basically, Germany’s European interests are better represented by President Chirac than by Chancellor Schröder, since Chirac is a convinced pro-European.”

Even further out in left field, the Berliner Zeitung manages to take a mildly satirical line on the whole affair, in Chirac wird Bundeskanzler. Chirac’s new position as part-time Bundeskanzler is quite curious, especially in light of the important labor reforms which are the very reason Schröder had to be away. Perhaps the two might find an extended job-sharing arrangement satisfactory, although in fact Chirac could be said to be overqualified for it, since he is head-of-state in France but can only be allowed to be head-of-government in Germany. Still, he won’t be permitted to refuse an available job just because he might be overqualified for it – not under the “Hartz IV” laws which Schröder is endeavoring to get passed. And other problems could crop up, too – like what sort of commuter’s allocation (“Pendlerpauschale“) should Chirac be allowed by the German tax authorities? And what if he eventually takes over Schröder’s decision-making entirely? Then the Bundeskanzler risks exposure as a ScheinSelbstständiger – someone who merely pretends to be self-employed to enable his true employer to avoid taxes.

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