Gerhard Fritz Kurt Schröder is a German politician who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005, during which his most important political initiative was Agenda 2010. As a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, he led a coalition government of the SPD and the Greens.
Before becoming a full-time politician, he was a lawyer, and before becoming Chancellor he served as Prime Minister of Lower Saxony. Following the 2005 federal election, which his party lost, after three weeks of negotiations he stood down as Chancellor in favour of Angela Merkel of the rival Christian Democratic Union. He is currently the chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG and of Rosneft, after having been hired as a global manager by investment bank Rothschild, and also the chairman of the board of football club Hannover 96.
Early life and educationSchröder was born in Blomberg, Lippe, Greater German Reich. His father, Fritz Schröder, a lance corporal in the Wehrmacht, was killed in action in World War II in Romania on 4 October 1944, almost six months after Gerhard's birth. His mother, Erika, worked as an agricultural laborer so that she could support herself and her two sons.
Schröder completed an apprenticeship in retail sales in a Lemgo hardware shop from 1958 to 1961 and subsequently worked in a Lage retail shop and after that as an unskilled construction worker and a sales clerk in Göttingen while studying at night school for a general qualification for university entrance. He did not have to do military service because his father had died in the war. In 1966, Schröder secured entrance to a university, passing the Abitur exam at Westfalen-Kolleg, Bielefeld. From 1966–71 he studied law at the University of Göttingen. From 1972 onwards, Schröder served as teaching assistant at the university. In 1976, he passed his second law examination, and he subsequently worked as a lawyer until 1990.
Among his more controversial cases, Schröder helped Horst Mahler, a founding member of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, to secure both an early release from prison and permission to practice law again in Germany.
Early political careerSchröder joined the Social Democratic Party in 1963. In 1978 he became the federal chairman of the Young Socialists, the youth organisation of the SPD. He spoke for the dissident Rudolf Bahro, as did President Jimmy Carter, Herbert Marcuse, and Wolf Biermann.
Member of the German Bundestag, 1980–1986In 1980, Schröder was elected to the German Bundestag, where he wore a sweater instead of the traditional suit. Under the leadership of successive chairmen Herbert Wehner and Hans-Jochen Vogel, he served in the SPD parliamentary group. He also became chairman of the SPD Hanover district.
Considered ambitious from early on in his political career, it was widely reported and never denied, that in 1982, a drunken Schröder stood outside the West German federal chancellery yelling: "I want to get in." That same year, he wrote an article on the idea of a red/green coalition for a book at Olle & Wolter, Berlin; this appeared later in "Die Zeit". Chancellor Willy Brandt, the SPD and SI chairman, who reviewed Olle & Wolter at that time, had just asked for more books on the subject.
In 1985, Schröder met the GDR leader Erich Honecker during a visit to East Berlin. In 1986, Schröder was elected to the parliament of Lower Saxony and became leader of the SPD group.
Minister-President of Lower Saxony, 1990–1998After the SPD won the state elections in June 1990, Schröder became Minister-President of Lower Saxony as head of an SPD-Greens coalition; in this position, he also won the 1994 and 1998 state elections. He was subsequently also appointed to the supervisory board of Volkswagen, the largest company in Lower Saxony and of which the state of Lower Saxony is a major stockholder.
Following his election as Minister-President in 1990, Schröder also became a member of the board of the federal SPD. In 1997 and 1998, he served as President of the Bundesrat. Between 1994 and 1998, he was also chairman of Lower Saxonian SPD.
During Schröder's time in office, first in coalition with the environmentalist Green Party, then with a clear majority, Lower Saxony became one of the most deficit-ridden of Germany's 16 federal states and unemployment rose higher than the national average of 12 percent. Ahead of the 1994 elections, SPD chairman Rudolf Scharping included Schröder in his shadow cabinet for the party's campaign to unseat incumbent Helmut Kohl as Chancellor. During the campaign, Schröder served as shadow minister of economic affairs, energy and transport.
In 1996, Schröder caused controversy by taking a free ride on the Volkswagen corporate jet to attend the Vienna Opera Ball, along with Volkswagen CEO Ferdinand Piëch. The following year, he nationalized a big steel mill in Lower Saxony to preserve jobs.
In the 1998 state elections, Schöder's Social Democrats increased their share of the vote by about four percentage points over the 44.3 percent they recorded in the previous elections in 1994 – a postwar record for the party in Lower Saxony that reversed a string of Social Democrat reversals in state elections elsewhere.
Chancellor of Germany, 1998–2005First term, 1998–2002
Following the 1998 national elections, Schröder became Chancellor as head of an SPD-Green coalition. Throughout his campaign for Chancellor, he portrayed himself as a pragmatic new Social Democrat who would promote economic growth while strengthening Germany's generous social welfare system.
After the resignation of Oskar Lafontaine as SPD Chairman in March 1999, in protest at Schröder's adoption of a number of what Lafontaine considered "neo-liberal" policies, Schröder took over his rival's office as well. In a move meant to signal a deepening alliance between Schröder and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, the two leaders issued an eighteen-page manifesto for economic reform in June 1999. Titled Europe: The Third Way, or Die Neue Mitte in German, it called on Europe's centre-left governments to cut taxes, pursue labour and welfare reforms and encourage entrepreneurship. The joint paper said European governments needed to adopt a "supply-side agenda" to respond to globalisation, the demands of capital markets and technological change.
Schröder's efforts backfired within his own party though, where the traditional left-wing rejected the Schröder-Blair call for cutbacks to the welfare state and pro-business policies. Instead, the paper took part of the blame for a succession of six German state election losses in 1999 for the Social Democratic Party. Only by 2000, Schröder managed to capitalise on the donations scandal of his Christian Democratic opposition to push through a landmark tax reform bill and re-establish his dominance of the German political scene.
In May 2001, Schröder moved to his new official residence, the Chancellery building in Berlin, almost two years after the city became the seat of the German Government. He had previously been working out of the building in eastern Berlin used by the former leaders of East Germany.
Second term, 2002–2005
Throughout the build-up to the 2002 German election, the Social Democrats and the Green Party trailed the centre-right candidate Edmund Stoiber until the catastrophe caused by rising floodwater in Germany gave him a chance to monopolise the media and save his poll ratings. Lastly, his popular opposition to a war in Iraq dominated campaigning in the run-up to the polls. At 22 September vote, he secured another four-year term, with a narrow nine-seat majority.
In February 2004, Schröder resigned as chairman of the SPD amid growing criticism from across his own party of his reform agenda; Franz Müntefering succeeded him as chairman. On 22 May 2005, after the SPD lost to the Christian Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia, Gerhard Schröder announced he would call federal elections "as soon as possible". A motion of confidence was subsequently defeated in the Bundestag on 1 July 2005 by 151 to 296, after Schröder urged members not to vote for his government in order to trigger new elections. In response, a grouping of left-wing SPD dissidents and the neo-communist Party of Democratic Socialism agreed to run on a joint ticket in the general election, with Schröder's rival Oskar Lafontaine leading the new group.
The 2005 German federal elections were held on 18 September. After the elections, neither Schröder's SPD-Green coalition nor the alliance between CDU/CSU and the FDP led by Angela Merkel achieved a majority in parliament, but the CDU/CSU had a stronger popular electoral lead by one percentage point. Since the SPD had been trailing the CDU by more than 15 points only weeks before the election, this outcome was a surprise and was mainly attributed to Schröder's charisma and prowess as a campaigner; polls consistently showed that he was much more popular with the German people than Merkel. On election night, both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory and chancellorship, but after initially ruling out a grand coalition with Merkel, Schröder and Müntefering entered negotiations with her and the CSU's Edmund Stoiber. On 10 October, it was announced that the parties had agreed to form a grand coalition. Schröder agreed to cede the chancellorship to Merkel, but the SPD would hold the majority of government posts and retain considerable control of government policy. Merkel was elected chancellor on 22 November.
On 11 October 2005, Schröder announced that he would not take a post in the new Cabinet and, in November, he confirmed that he would leave politics as soon as Merkel took office. On 23 November 2005, he resigned his Bundestag seat.
On 14 November 2005, at a SPD conference in Karlsruhe, Schröder urged members of the SPD to support the proposed coalition, saying it "carries unmistakably, perhaps primarily, the imprint of the Social Democrats". Many SPD members had previously indicated that they supported the coalition, which would have continued the policies of Schröder's government, but had objected to Angela Merkel replacing him as Chancellor. The conference voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal.
Domestic policiesIn his first term, Schröder's government decided to phase out nuclear power, fund renewable energies, institute civil unions for same-sex partners, and liberalise the naturalization law.
During Schröder's time in office, economic growth slowed to only 0.2% in 2002 and Gross Domestic Product shrank in 2003, while German unemployment was over the 10% mark. Most voters soon associated Schröder with the Agenda 2010 reform program, which included cuts in the social welfare system, lower taxes, and reformed regulations on employment and payment. He also eliminated capital gains tax on the sale of corporate stocks and thereby made the country more attractive to foreign investors.
After the 2002 election, the SPD steadily lost support in opinion polls. Many increasingly perceived Schröder's Third Way program to be a dismantling of the German welfare state. Moreover, Germany's high unemployment rate remained a serious problem for the government. Schröder's tax policies were also unpopular; when the satirical radio show The Gerd Show released "Der Steuersong", featuring Schröder's voice lampooning Germany's indirect taxation with the lyrics "Dog tax, tobacco tax, emissions and environmental tax, did you really think more weren't coming?", it became Germany's 2002 Christmas #1 hit and sold over a million copies. The fact that Schröder served on the Volkswagen board and tended to prefer pro-car policies led to him being nicknamed the "Auto-Kanzler".
European integrationIn 1997, Schröder joined the ministers-president of two other German states, Kurt Biedenkopf and Edmund Stoiber, in making the case for a five-year delay in Europe's currency union. After taking office, he made his first official trip overseas to France for meetings with President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in October 1998. A 2001 meeting held by both leaders in Blaesheim later gave the name to a regular series of informal meetings between the French President, the German Chancellor, and their foreign ministers. The meetings were held alternately in France and Germany. At the fortieth anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, both sides agreed that rather than summits being held twice a year, there would now be regular meetings of a council of French and German ministers overseen by their respective foreign affairs ministers. In an unprecedented move, Chirac formally agreed to represent Schröder in his absence at a European Council meeting in October 2003.
In his first months in office, Schröder vigorously demanded that Germany's net annual contribution of about $12,000,000,000 to the budget of the European Union be cut, saying his country was paying most for European "waste." He later moderated his views when his government held the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 1999.
In 2003, Schröder and Chirac agreed to share power in the institutions of the European Union between a President of the European Commission, elected by the European Parliament, and a full-time President of the European Council, chosen by heads of state and government; their agreement later formed the basis of discussions at the Convention on the Future of Europe and became law with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Ahead of the French referendum on a European Constitution, Schröder joined Chirac in urging French voters to back the new treaty, which would have enshrined new rules for the expanded EU of 25 member states and widened the areas of collective action.
Also in 2003, both Schröder and Chirac forced a suspension of sanctions both faced for breaching the European Union's fiscal rules that underpin the euro – the Stability and Growth Pact – for three years in a row. Schröder later called for a revision of the Lisbon Strategy and thereby a retreat from Europe's goal of overtaking the United States as the world's most competitive economy by 2010. Instead, he urged the EU to reform the Pact to encourage growth, and to seek the reorientation of the €100,000,000,000 annual EU budget towards research and innovation. By 2005, he had successfully pushed for an agreement on sweeping plans to rewrite the Pact, which now allowed EU members with deficits above the original 3% of GDP limit to cite the costs of "the reunification of Europe" as a mitigating factor.
Schröder was regarded a strong ally of Prime Minister Leszek Miller of Poland and supporter of the 2004 enlargement of the European Union. On 1 August 2004, the sixtieth anniversary of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, he apologised to Poland for "the immeasurable suffering" of its people during the conflict; he was the first German Chancellor to be invited to an anniversary of the uprising. Both Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also supported the accession of Turkey to the European Union.
Foreign policyMarking a clear break with the caution of German foreign policy since World War II, Schröder laid out in 1999 his vision of the country's international role, describing Germany as "a great power in Europe" that would not hesitate to pursue its national interests.
Schröder also began seeking a resolution ways to compensate Nazi-era slave labourers almost as soon as he was elected Chancellor. Reversing the hard-line stance of his predecessor, Helmut Kohl, he agreed to the government contributing alongside industry to a fund that would compensate people forced to work in German factories by the Nazi regime and appointed Otto Graf Lambsdorff to represent German industry in the negotiations with survivors' organisations, American lawyers and the U.S. government.
Schröder sent forces to Kosovo and to Afghanistan as part of NATO operations. Until Schröder's chancellorship, German troops had not taken part in combat actions since World War II. With Germany having a long experience with terrorism itself, Schröder declared solidarity with the United States after the September 11 attacks in 2001. When Schröder left office, Germany had 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest contingent from any nation other than the United States, UK, France, Canada and after two years Afghanistan.
Relations with the Middle East
During their time in government, both Schröder and his foreign minister Joschka Fischer were widely considered sincerely, if not uncritically, pro-Israel. Schröder represented the German government at the funeral service for King Hussein of Jordan in Amman on 9 February 1999.
When British planes joined United States forces bombing Iraq without consulting the United Nations Security Council in December 1998, Schröder endorsed the military action unequivocally. Along with French President Jacques Chirac and many other world leaders, Schröder later spoke out strongly against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and refused any military assistance in that enterprise. Schröder's stance caused political friction between the US and Germany, in particular because he used this topic for his 2002 election campaign. Schröder's stance set the stage for alleged anti-American statements by members of the SPD. The parliamentary leader of the SPD, Ludwig Stiegler, compared US President George W. Bush to Julius Caesar while Schröder's Minister of Justice, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, likened Bush's foreign policy to that of Adolf Hitler. Schröder's critics accused him of enhancing, and campaigning on, anti-American sentiments in Germany. After his 2002 re-election, Schröder and Bush rarely met and their animosity was seen as a widening political gap between the US and Europe. Bush stated in his memoirs that Schröder initially promised to support the Iraq war but changed his mind with the upcoming German elections and public opinion strongly against the invasion, to which Schröder responded saying that Bush was "not telling the truth". When asked in March 2003 if he were at all self-critical about his position on Iraq, Schröder replied, "I very much regret there were excessive statements" from himself and former members of his government.
Relations with Russia
On his first official trip to Russia in late-1998, Schröder suggested that Germany was not likely to come up with more aid for the country. He also sought to detach himself from the close personal relationship that his predecessor, Helmut Kohl, had with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, saying that German-Russian relations should "develop independently of concrete political figures." Soon after, however, he cultivated close ties with Yeltsin's successor, President Vladimir Putin, in an attempt to strengthen the "strategic partnership" between Berlin and Moscow, including the opening of a gas pipeline from Russian Dan Marino-Pipelines over the Baltic Sea exclusively between Russia and Germany. During his time in office, he visited the country five times.
Schröder was criticised in the media, and subsequently by Angela Merkel, for calling Putin a "flawless democrat" on 22 November 2004, only days before Putin prematurely congratulated Viktor Yanukovich during the Orange Revolution. In 2005, Schröder suggested at the ceremonial introduction of the Airbus A380 in Toulouse that there was still "room in the boat" of EADS for Russia.
Only a few days after his chancellorship, Schröder joined the board of directors of the joint venture. Thus bringing about new speculations about his prior objectivity. In his memoirs Decisions: My Life in Politics, Schröder still defends his friend and political ally, and states that "it would be wrong to place excessive demands on Russia when it comes to the rate of domestic political reform and democratic development, or to judge it solely on the basis of the Chechnya conflict."
Relations with China
During his time in office, Schröder visited China six times. He was the first Western politician to travel to Beijing and apologise after NATO jets had mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. In 2004, he and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao established a secure, direct telephone line. He also pressed for the lifting of the EU arms embargo on China.
Life after politicsSchröder rents an apartment in Berlin while retaining his primary residence in Hanover. As a former Chancellor, he is entitled to a permanent office, also situated in Berlin. In late 2005, he spent time in the UK improving his English language skills.
Representative roleAfter leaving public office, Schröder represented Germany at the funeral services for Boris Yeltsin in Moscow and Fidel Castro in Santiago de Cuba.
Schröder and Kurt Biedenkopf served as mediators in a conflict over privatization plans at German railway operator Deutsche Bahn; the plans eventually fell through. In 2016, he was appointed by Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to mediate in a dispute between two of Germany's leading retailers, Edeka and REWE Group, over the takeover of supermarket chain Kaiser's Tengelmann.
Following the release of German activist Peter Steudtner from a Turkish prison in October 2017, German media reported that Schröder had acted as mediator in the conflict and, on the request of Gabriel, met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to secure the release. After the 2018 elections in Turkey, he represented the German government at Erdoğan's swearing-in ceremony in Ankara.
Business activitiesSchröder's plans after leaving office as Chancellor and resigning his Bundestag seat included resuming his law practice in Berlin, writing a book, and implementing plans for twin pipelines for Gazprom, Russia's leading energy company. He was subsequently retained by the Swiss publisher Ringier AG as a consultant. Other board memberships include the following:
- Herrenknecht, Deputy Chairman of the Supervisory Board
- Nord Stream, Chairman of the Shareholders’ Committee
- CargoBeamer, Member of the Advisory Board
- N M Rothschild & Sons, Member of the European Advisory Council
- Hannover 96, Chairman of the Supervisory Board
- TNK-BP, Member of the International Advisory Board
- Berggruen Institute, Member of the Council for the Future of Europe and the 21st Century Council.
- Bundesliga Foundation, Member of the Board of Trustees
- German Cancer Research Center, Member of the Advisory Council
- Dresden Frauenkirche, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Member
- Mädchenchor Hannover Foundation, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Museum Berggruen, Member of the International Council
- German Near and Middle East Association, Honorary Chairman of the Board
- Wilhelm Busch Museum, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
- InterAction Council of Former Heads of State and Government, Member
- International Willy Brandt Prize, Member of the Jury
Criticism and controversies
Relationship with Gazprom and RosneftAs Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder was a strong advocate of the Nord Stream pipeline project, which aims to supply Russian gas directly to Germany, thereby bypassing transit countries.
At the time of the German parliamentary election, according to Rick Noak of The Washington Post:
On 24 October 2005, just a few weeks before Schröder stepped down as Chancellor, the German government guaranteed to cover 1 billion euros of the Nord Stream project cost, should Gazprom default on a loan. However, this guarantee had never been used. Soon after stepping down as chancellor, Schröder accepted Gazprom's nomination for the post of the head of the shareholders' committee of Nord Stream AG, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest.
German opposition parties expressed concern over the issue, as did the governments of countries over whose territory gas is currently pumped. In an editorial entitled Gerhard Schroeder's Sellout, the American newspaper The Washington Post also expressed sharp criticism, reflecting widening international ramifications of Schröder's new post. Democrat Tom Lantos, chairman of the United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs, likened Schröder to a "political prostitute" for his recent behaviour. In January 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that Schröder would join the board of the oil company TNK-BP, a joint venture between oil major BP and Russian partners.
In 2016, Schröder switched to become manager of Nord Stream 2, an expansion of the original pipeline in which Gazprom is sole shareholder.
In 2017, Russia nominated Schröder to also serve as an independent director of the board of its biggest oil producer Rosneft. At the time, Rosneft was under Western sanctions over Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis. Schröder told Blick that he would be paid about $350,000 annually for the part-time post. His decision caused an outcry in Germany and abroad, especially in a climate of fear about any potential Russian interference in the 2017 German elections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized her predecessor, saying "I do not think what Mr Schröder is doing is okay".
Defamation lawsuitIn April 2002, Schröder sued the DDP press agency for publishing an opinion of public relations consultant Sabine Schwind saying that he "would be more credible if he didn't dye his gray hair". The court decided to ban the media from suggesting that he colours his hair. The Chancellor's spokesman said: "This is not a frivolous action taken over whether he does or doesn't dye his hair, but is a serious issue regarding his word." The agency's lawyer said that they could not accept a verdict which "does not coincide with freedom of the press".
Dispute over Estonian war memorialDuring a heated dispute between Russia and Estonia in May 2007 over the removal of a Soviet-era war memorial from the centre of the Estonian capital Tallinn to a military cemetery, Schröder defended the Kremlin's reaction. He remarked that Estonia had contradicted "every form of civilised behaviour". Consequently, the Estonian government cancelled a planned visit by Schröder in his function as chairman of Nord Stream AG, which promotes the petroleum pipeline from Russia to Germany.
Comments on Kosovo independenceSchröder has criticised some European countries' swift decision to recognise Kosovo as an independent state after it declared independence in February 2008. He believes the decision was taken under heavy pressure from the US government and has caused more problems, including the weakening of the so-called pro-EU forces in Serbia. In August 2008, Schröder laid the blame for the 2008 South Ossetia war squarely on Mikhail Saakashvili and "the West", hinting at American foreknowledge and refusing to criticize any aspect of Russian policy which had thus far come to light.
Comments on Crimean crisisIn March 2014, Schröder likened Russia's intervention in Crimea with NATO's intervention in Kosovo, citing both cases as violations of international law and the UN Charter. He further stated that there had been "unhappy developments" on the outskirts of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War, leading Putin to develop justifiable "fears about being encircled". On 13 March 2014, an attempt by the German Green Party to ban Schröder from speaking in public about Ukraine was narrowly defeated in the European parliament. His decision to celebrate his 70th birthday party with Putin in Saint Petersburg's Yusupov Palace in late April elicited further criticism from several members of Merkel's grand coalition, including human rights spokesperson.
Paradise PapersIn November 2017, an investigation conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism cited his name in the list of politicians named in "Paradise Papers" allegations.
Personal lifeSchröder has been married five times:
- Eva Schubach ;
- Anne Taschenmacher ;
- Hiltrud Hampel ;
- Doris Köpf ;
- Kim So-yeon
When not in Berlin, Schröder lives in Hanover. In 2013, Schröder and Kopf purchased another home in Gümüşlük, Turkey, in a real estate project developed by Nicolas Berggruen.
Schröder's fourth marriage have earned him the nickname "Audi Man", a reference to the four-ring symbol of Audi motorcars. Another nickname is "The Lord of the Rings".
Schröder married for the fifth time in 2018. His wife is the Korean economist and interpreter Kim So-yeon.
Schröder identifies himself as a member of the Evangelical Church in Germany, but does not appear to be religious. He did not add the optional phrase So wahr mir Gott helfe when sworn in as chancellor for his first term in 1998.
Schröder is known to be an avid art collector. He chose his friend Jörg Immendorff to paint his official portrait for the German Chancellery. The portrait, which was completed by Immendorff's assistants, was revealed to the public in January 2007; the massive work has ironic character, showing the former Chancellor in stern heroic pose, in the colors of the German flag, painted in the style of an icon, surrounded by little monkeys. These "painter monkeys" were a recurring theme in Immendorff's work, serving as an ironic commentary on the artist's practice. On 14 June 2007, Schröder gave a eulogy at a memorial service for Immendorf at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
Awards and honours
- Order of the White Eagle
- Schröder has been awarded honorary doctorates by
- * Tongji University in Shanghai,
- * St. Petersburg University,
- * Marmara University in Istanbul and
- * University of Göttingen.
- * University of Damascus in Damascus, Syria.
- Honorary citizen of Hanover
- Knight Grand Cross of the Grand Order of Queen Jelena 24 April 2007, "for exceptional merit in the recognition of Croatia and the support of Croatia on the road to the EU".
- Quadriga Prize
- Elected a corresponding member of the Department of Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences
- Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania
- Order of the White Lion
- Order of the Golden Fleece