Berlin (dpa) – Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder for the tough economic reforms introduced by his government as helping to lay the foundations for Germany’s recent economic success.
“Gerhard Schroeder has rendered outstanding services to this country as a result of the Agenda 2010,” Merkel said on Tuesday launching a biography of her one-time Social Democrat (SPD) rival, who she defeated in a tight election race a decade ago.
“Although we fundamentally disagree on foreign policy issues, this does not change my respect for the achievements of the reformer Schroeder,” said Merkel, who leads the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
Commentators have drawn parallels between Schroeder’s battle to haul his left-leaning party behind his ambitious reform plans and Merkel’s fight to head off criticism in her political bloc and the European Union over her open-arms policy towards refugees.
Merkel and Schroeder, who led an SPD-Green Party coalition between 1998 and 2005, have not always been on such friendly terms.
Ten years ago on election night, Schroeder bluntly told Merkel on national television that she would never become chancellor because his party would not be prepared to hold talks with her party and its Bavarian-based associate party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Merkel went on to forge a coalition with the SPD and to abandon election promises to build on Schroeder’s reforms for a wider overhauling of the country’s labour market and welfare state.
The scale of the opposition among SPD supporters to Schroeder’s reforms eventually helped to weaken the SPD and remove it as a threat to Merkel retaining power.
But it remains a mystery when Merkel knew she would become Germany’s first woman chancellor amid the political uncertainty created by the tight election result, which left her CDU-CSU political bloc with a very slight lead over the Schroeder-led coalition.
She sidestepped questions at Tuesday’s book launch as to when she realized that she would take over as head of Europe’s biggest economy.
During the changeover in power at the end of 2005, Merkel asked Schroeder what was in his office safe. “We then opened the safe and what was in there? Watches from (former Italian prime minister) Silvio Berlusconi,” said Merkel.
Merkel now once again leads a coalition with the SPD as the junior partner after her former allies, the free-market Free Democrats, were turfed out of parliament in the 2013 election.
But underlining the differences between Merkel’s CDU-CSU and SPD, Schroeder said the refugee crisis was one of the major challenges facing global politics.
Despite insisting that he would not comment on current political issues, Schroeder said that how the refugee crisis turns out politically in Germany “will depend on how quickly and how brave a new immigration law is introduced.” This is line with his party’s policy.
Merkel, however, believes a new immigration law is currently not a priority.
Written by the historian Gregor Schoellgen, the over 1,000-page Schroeder biography contains little new about the former chancellor as it charts his rise from poverty in post-World War II Germany to the peak of political power in the country.
Schoellgen’s book also highlights the differences in political style between Merkel and her SPD predecessor.
The book shows how Schroeder, who was dubbed the Basta chancellor, acted quickly to bring to an end a debate in the nation with a firm decision, while Merkel tends to hold back waiting to get the full picture before making a decision.
But in writing about Schroeder, Schoellgen also highlights the similarities between Merkel and the former SPD chancellor: They are both highly pragmatic political figures steeped in the exercise of power.