The Russian relations diminish the reputation of the German ex-boss Schröder

BERLIN – Gerhard Schröder left the Federal Chancellery after a narrow election defeat in 2005 with every chance of a future as a respected Elder Statesman.

His ambitious reform of the country’s welfare state was just beginning to take hold, and he had won plaudits from voters for speaking out against the US-led war in Iraq.

Fast forward to last week: German lawmakers agreed to shut down Schröder’s taxpayer-funded office, the European Parliament called for sanctions against him, and his own party called a hearing on the expulsion requests in mid-June.

Schroeder’s allegedly lucrative involvement in Russia’s energy sector and his friendly relationship with President Vladimir Putin have caused a stir for years, even as many others in Germany have been supportive of business and energy ties.

But it was his tenacity to hold on to his energy posts and his failure to distance himself from Putin after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 that made the 78-year-old a political outcast in Germany and removed him from his party alienated centre-left Social Democrats of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.


“Gerhard Schröder has only acted as a businessman for many years, and we should stop seeing him as an elder statesman, as a former chancellor,” deputy party leader Saskia Esken said last month.

On Friday, Russia’s state-owned energy company Rosneft announced that Schroeder plans to step down from its board of directors, which he has chaired since 2017. The Secretary General of the Social Democrats, Kevin Kühnert, said it was “unfortunately much too late”.

Scholz said he should quit other Russian energy jobs. The ex-chancellor was chairman of the Nord Stream AG shareholders’ committee for years and headed the board of Nord Stream 2, a second pipeline that is supposed to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany and which the Scholz government stopped in February.


Schröder, who rose to the top of Germany from a poor working class background, was Chancellor from 1998 to 2005. He ushered in a then-unpopular transformation of Germany’s labor market that was later credited with making Europe’s largest economy more competitive. help him get through a series of crises.

He also vehemently opposed the US-led war in Iraq, a stance that resonated with German voters and helped him secure his second term, but cooled relations with President George W. Bush.

However, Schröder allied himself with Putin. He welcomed the Russian leader to his home in Hanover, while the couple also appeared together on a German TV talk show. When asked in 2004 whether he considered Putin a “flawless democrat”, the chancellor answered yes.

A few weeks after leaving office, Schröder drew criticism for his appointment to a German-Russian consortium to build the Nord Stream gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which he had championed as chancellor. He said it was “a point of honor” to help.


In April 2014, he was hugged at a party in St. Petersburg for his 70th birthday as tensions between Russia and the West increased following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

At the beginning of February this year, the Russian state gas company Gazprom announced that it had been nominated for the board – shortly after the ex-chancellor accused Ukraine of “saber rattling”. It’s unclear if the appointment, which was due to be confirmed in June, will go through.

When Scholz visited Moscow shortly before the Russian invasion, Putin praised Schröder as an “independent expert” and “a decent person whom we respect”. He said Germans who didn’t want to pay much more for petrol should be thankful to their former leader.

On the day of the invasion, Schröder said it was the Russian government’s responsibility to end the war as soon as possible and Moscow’s security interests did not justify military intervention. But he didn’t elaborate on his own energy posts, saying in a LinkedIn post that there were “many flaws — on both sides” in relations between Russia and the West.


Schröder shares continued to fall. He gave up the title of honorary citizen of Hanover to forestall a likely decision by the city council and had his honorary membership of the German Football Association and leading football club Borussia Dortmund revoked. Employees resigned in protest. Prominent Social Democrats called on him to leave the party he led from 1999 to 2004; The state party in Hanover received 14 applications for exclusion, which are to be examined on June 15.

Schroeder was defiant in an April interview with the New York Times, declaring, “I blame no one.” And he was quoted as saying that a massacre in Bucha outside Kyiv “needs to be investigated,” but he didn’t think that the orders came from Putin.

It is not clear what eventually prompted Schröder to retire from Rosneft. But the announcement came a day after German lawmakers voted to oust him, while the European Parliament passed a resolution “urging” him to give up his positions at Russian firms and urging politicians “who continue receive Russian money”. be sanctioned. Scholz indicated that he does not currently support sanctions against Schröder.


“The public self-destruction of his reputation was as sad to see as it was disturbing,” commented the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “No one could explain how a man once endowed with outstanding political instincts could let the discussion go on until his privileges were stripped.”


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Joel McCord

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