Gerhard Schröder has told Germans that a vote for him is a vote against
war in Iraq, as he urgently seeks a "big idea" in his fight for a second term
French President Jacques Chirac(L) and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder listen
to their respective national anthems during a welcoming ceremony in Schwerin,
Germany July 30, 2002. The leaders told a news conference that they could not
support any possible U.S. attack on Iraq without a United Nations mandate. (Christian
Ahead of today's launch of the "hot phase" of his Social Democrat Party (SPD)
election campaign - brought forward three weeks because of the SPD's alarming
slide in the polls - Mr Schröder told a party rally he would not support
American "adventures" in Iraq nor provide a single euro to fund them.
In a clear criticism of Washington's current policy that he hoped would appeal
to Germany's pacifist majority, he said: "Whoever goes in has to know why he goes
there and what he wants there.
"I can only warn against discussing a war in Iraq without thinking about the
political consequences and without having a clear political concept for the entire
Referring to the Gulf war, when Germany helped to finance the campaign, though
it provided no troops, he said: "Such a division of responsibility, which says
'The Germans are not there but they pay', does not exist any more, at least not
The comments represented a definite hardening of anti-American attitudes.
Joschka Fischer, the foreign minister and a member of the Social Democrats'
coalition partners, the Greens, went even further saying it was a "wrong priority"
to try to bring about a change of regime in Iraq "with an armed intervention in
The decision to put foreign affairs at the forefront of campaigning for next
month's election was seized on by Mr Schröder's rival from the centre-Right,
Edmund Stoiber - as well as independent commentators - as proof that he was dodging
domestic matters, including unemployment and Germany's sluggish economic growth.
Mr Stoiber said: "This is a red herring to hide essential issues that have
not been dealt with or solved."
Mr Stoiber has tended to be cautiously supportive of US policy over Iraq. Wolfgang
Schäuble, the centre-Right foreign policy spokesman, rejected Mr Schröder's
attempt to brand the Christian Democrats and Mr Stoiber's Bavarian Christian Social
Union as warmongers.
No decisions needed to be made now on German participation in a conflict in
Iraq, he said. "We will cross that bridge when we come to it."
After a month in which Mr Schröder has sacked his defence minister, Rudolf
Scharping, and been under heavy pressure over the economy and political scandals
involving party members, the SPD has suffered a potentially fatal slide in the
Most surveys now show them six points behind the centre-Right opposition parties
led by Mr Stoiber, who seem on course to form a coalition government with the
pro-business liberal FDP who are on nine per cent. Some pollsters have written
the SPD off already.
Mr Schröder's advisers had been pinning their hopes on the media-friendly
chancellor winning through because he has more "nice guy" appeal than Mr Stoiber.
But his personal ratings, as well as those of his party, have begun to dip following
the chaos of recent weeks.
The SPD's latest hope seems to be to play on Germans' fear of returning to
war or of finding some last minute skeleton in the Stoiber cupboard.
According to an opinion poll by Forsa, 84 per cent of Germans reject the idea
of their country participating in a conflict in Iraq, with only 13 per cent supporting
Today Mr Schröder will send his party's election battle bus on its way
across the country three weeks earlier than originally planned.
By mid-week more bad news on unemployment is expected, with experts predicting
July's figure will show a monthly rise of 100,000 to more than four million. The
total normally falls in the summer months.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002