Schröder, Gerhard (b. 1944)

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German politician.

Gerhard Schröder became the seventh chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1998. Born in 1944 in Mossenberg, Schröder studied law in Göttingen and rose within the youth wing of the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or SPD) in Lower Saxony. He belonged to a younger generation of SPD leaders that emerged out of the 1968 student movement and rose within the party ranks under the Federal Republic's first two SPD chancellors, Willy Brandt (1969–1974) and Helmut Schmidt (1974–1982). Schröder was elected to the Bundestag (federal parliament) in 1980. After a CDU-led government under Helmut Kohl succeeded Schmidt in 1982, he turned his attention to state level politics and was elected to two terms as governor of Lower Saxony (1990–1998). In September 1998 Schröder bested Kohl in national elections and formed a coalition with the Green Party, which entered national government for the first time. The "red-green" coalition secured reelection in 2002.

Both as governor and as chancellor, Schröder's main field of interest and action has been economic policy. A protégé of Schmidt, he emerged as a prominent representative of the reform wing of the SPD, committed to economic modernization. As governor of Lower Saxony, Schröder implemented a series of measures designed to improve regional competitiveness, including a reform of the civil service, and became well-known for his high-profile, direct negotiations with industrial leaders. His overall record was mixed. Lower Saxony attracted increased levels of capital investment during his tenure, but its overall level of unemployment remained higher than the national average. Schröder's reputation as an economic manager contributed to his reelection in 1994 and again in 1998, shortly before he ran as his party's candidate for the chancellorship.

Schröder's main rival for SPD leadership during the 1990s was Oskar Lafontaine (b. 1943), governor of the Saarland and leader of the party's left wing. A proponent of a robust welfare state, Lafontaine replaced Rudolf Scharping as party leader after the latter lost to Kohl in the 1994 elections. Amid the country's economic downturn of the late 1990s, the result both of the financial burdens of reunification and of a slumping European and international economy, Schröder's reputation as an economic manager and strong campaigner helped to secure the nomination for 1998. After his victory over Kohl, Schröder brought Lafontaine into his government as finance minister. But a half year later differences over the extent and trajectory of economic and social reform sparked Lafontaine's resignation and Schröder's assumption of the position of party chairman. He then tried, with mixed success, to slow the growth of social spending, overhaul the pension system, and modernize Germany's system of higher education. The new immigration law of 2002, which simplified naturalization for foreigners living in the country, was one of the major legislative accomplishments of his first term in office.

In the field of foreign policy, Schröder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer of the Greens, pursued a pragmatic course. Schröder combined an Atlantic and pro–European Union (EU) orientation with economic support for and cooperation with Russia and East and Central Europe. In 1999 he overcame opposition within the pacifist wing of his own party and approved the deployment of German troops as part of NATO's multinational forces in the Balkans. The second half of Schröder's first term was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the U.S.-led response. Schröder and Fischer supported U.S. intervention against the Taliban in Afghanistan late that year and sent a small contingent of German troops to join in the effort. But both men refused the entreaties of the administration of George W. Bush (b. 1946) to support military action against Iraq. Schröder's refusal to participate in an invasion—even under eventual UN auspices—proved popular with the German electorate and contributed to his electoral victory over Edmund Stoiber of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union, or CSU) in September 2002.

Schröder's second term began under difficult circumstances. He worked, with limited success, to improve relations with the Bush administration after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq strained transatlantic relations. At the same time he successfully pressed for the accession of ten East and Central European countries to the EU in May 2004. On the domestic front, the combination of continued high unemployment and slow growth led to a precipitous drop in Schröder's popularity. In the wake of a string of SPD losses in state elections, he gave up the post of party chairman and redoubled the government's effort to reform Germany's social welfare and labor market policies in a more market-friendly direction. In 2003–2004 his reform efforts met resistance within the SPD and with the Greens even as they were impeded by the Christian Democratic majority in the Bundesrat, or federal chamber. The fate of those reforms was bound up with his own political fate—in the elections held in September 2005, Schröder lost to Angela Merkel, the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, or CDU).

See alsoBrandt, Willy; Germany; Schmidt, Helmut; Social Democracy.


Camerra-Rowe, Pamela. "Agenda 2010: Redefining German Social Democracy." German Politics and Society (March 2004).

Harlen, C. M. "Schröder's Economic Reforms: The End of Reformstau?" German Politics 11, no. 1 (2002): 61–80.

Patzelt, Werner. "Chancellor Schröder's Approach to Political and Legislative Leadership." German Politics 13, no. 2, (June 2004): 268–299.

Vinocur, John. "Downsizing German Politics: Gerhard Schroder, Man from the Plains." Foreign Affairs 77, no. 5 (September/October 1998).

Thomas Banchoff

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Schröder, Gerhard (b. 1944)

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