Miércoles 28 de Septiembre de 2005, Ip nº 128

Doris lowers the tone with attack on childless Merkel
Por Justin Sparks

WHEN Chancellor Gerhard Schröder surprised Germany by announcing a snap general election, he gave a brief but telling glimpse of how he intended to wage his campaign.

“We would do well to lead a very personalised contest which is focused on the two leading figures,” he declared in a newspaper interview.

It seemed a shrewd tactic. Schröder, the 61-year-old Social Democrat, was renowned for his prowess on screen and at political rallies. Angela Merkel, his 51-year-old conservative challenger, was widely mocked as a frumpish former East German academic unable to connect with ordinary people.

Quite how personalised Schröder meant the contest to become has been shown to dramatic effect in the run-up to next Sunday’s vote. With the chancellor trailing in the polls, his wife Doris Schröder-Köpf has injected unexpected vitriol into the campaign with highly personalised attacks on Merkel.

In interviews Schröder-Köpf, 41, a former tabloid journalist, first highlighted Merkel’s failure to have children, suggesting it disqualifies her from speaking for other German women.

Merkel’s life “is not such that she can represent the experiences of the majority of women”, Schröder-Köpf told Die Zeit, a political weekly. “They are busy trying to juggle a family and a career, or deciding whether to spend a few years at home after having a baby or wondering how best to bring up their children. This is not Angela Merkel’s world.”

Schröder-Köpf — who raised a daughter from a previous relationship alone before meeting the chancellor — then brought another edge to her attack on Merkel’s record as minister for women in the 1990s.

“I experienced this period as a single mother who was working as well, as a political journalist. And I know that there was no help from Frau Merkel,” she told Bunte, a popular magazine. “The result is well known: among female academics of my generation, 40% don’t have children. Frau Merkel was responsible for one of the most important areas for our future. She clearly failed.”

It seems inconceivable that such attacks could have been made without her husband’s consent. Schröder-Köpf is regarded as one of his most influential advisers. “As he has weakened, she has taken an increasingly powerful role, perhaps aiming to emulate Hillary Clinton in a campaign that has the hallmarks of a presidential campaign,” said Jürgen Falter, a political commentator.

Challenged during a televised debate with Merkel over his wife’s intervention, Schröder sprang to her defence. “Why shouldn’t my wife not get involved?” he demanded. “I am proud that she gets involved in a very important discussion.”

Praising Schröder-Köpf as a woman who speaks her mind, he added: “That is one of the reasons why I love her.”

Merkel, though careful not to respond, finds herself in a difficult position. Conscious of the extent to which her popularity trails Schröder’s, she has worked hard to present a softer human image.

Uncomfortable with her “frumpy” appearance, she has replaced dowdy suits with bright blouses, employs a celebrity hairdresser and takes a makeup artist to rallies.

The publication by Stern magazine of colourful details from her past in communist East Germany — including snippets about former boyfriends — was believed to have been authorised by the Merkel camp.

Last week her father, Pastor Horst Kasner, 79, who took the unusual decision of moving from West to East Germany in the 1950s, was also interviewed in the media for the first time.

There are limits, however. While Schröder-Köpf has been happy to pose with her husband for publicity shots, Merkel’s university professor spouse, Joachim Sauer, has spurned the press.

Although the precise impact on voters of Schröder-Köpf’s attacks is difficult to assess, the chancellor has made up ground since last Sunday’s debate before 20m viewers. Languishing for weeks at 30% or less of the vote, his Social Democratic party (SPD) has clawed its way back to 34% — just 4.5 points below the tally that narrowly secured re-election for his “Red-Green” coalition in 2002.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are still ahead on 41%. But she is far from certain of achieving an absolute majority with the Free Democratic party (FDP), her prospective coalition partner. Many analysts say that although Merkel is still likely to become chancellor, she may have to form a so-called “grand coalition” with the SPD.

The SPD will try to build on its new-found momentum this week by accusing the CDU of plotting changes to tax and welfare that would mean the “end of social Germany”. Volker Kauder, the CDU general secretary, was appalled: “That a serving chancellor should lie so brazenly is unique in the history of the Federal Republic,” he said.

Another boost for Schröder could come when he unexpectedly joins Merkel and the leaders of the three smaller parties — the Left party, Greens and FDP — in a second television debate tomorrow night.

The SPD was to have been represented by Franz Müntefering, to whom Schröder entrusted chairmanship of the party last year. Müntefering withdrew at the last moment to attend a funeral, opening the way for the chancellor to lead another direct onslaught on Merkel. Things could get personal again.

  11/09/2005. Times Online.


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