In order to understand the crash of Gerhard Schröder, it is advisable to recall the tributes to his 70th birthday. It was a cozy April evening at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, a few weeks after the Russian annexation of Crimea. Everything that had rank and name in politics was there.
The SPD leader at the time, Sigmar Gabriel, said words that have a completely different ring to them today. He praised Schröder as one of “the most unusual social democratic politicians”. Schröder is the opposite of an anemic professional politician. “Everything he did, he went all out. For himself, for the SPD, but also for the country,” said Gabriel.
The leader of the parliamentary group at the time, Thomas Oppermann, said that there was “an unbelievable respect for Gerhard Schröder and his lifetime political achievements” in the SPD. He kept Germany out of the Iraq war, initiated the nuclear phase-out and managed the labor market reforms.
But the political work has long been overshadowed by the work after the term of office. When he goes out in Hanover, Schröder can experience what it means to be an outcast. At the request of numerous associations, a party organization procedure is underway in the SPD with the aim of expulsion, because of his refusal to break with Vladimir Putin and resign from his supervisory board mandates at Russian energy companies.
And this week it will be decided to what extent the former chancellor, who is now 78 years old, is to have his equipment removed; his office staff for the premises at Unter den Linden 50 have resigned anyway. And appointments and requests to speak are currently rather difficult to coordinate.
Last year, the office cost taxpayers a total of 418,531 euros in personnel costs, including 11,789 euros in travel expenses – Angela Merkel could apply for the annual costs of around 800,000 euros due to larger equipment. The traffic light therefore wants to go for a general reform.
Accordingly, the SPD politician should lose his office and his employees. The remaining staff should handle the tasks of the office and then take on other tasks, according to the application by the traffic light coalition for the budget committee, which is to be decided on Thursday.
The traffic light coalition does not officially justify the removal of Schröder’s privileges with his attitude towards Russia and Putin. That should make the decision less vulnerable. Instead, they call on the federal government to ensure that the official appointments of former chancellors “take place in accordance with the ongoing obligations from the office and are not related to status”.
According to Tagesspiegel information from coalition circles, the planned reform, which immediately cuts Schröder’s equipment, could also mean cuts for Angela Merkel. In addition, the FDP insists that the regulation should also apply to former Federal and Bundestag Presidents. It should be based on the recommendations of the Federal Audit Office.
After the Schröder case, an assessment basis for further support should be whether there are any corresponding former chancellor tasks at all. At Schröder, this is practically non-existent at the moment. Unaffected by this, personal protection and pensions for former chancellors should continue to apply.
The Federal Court of Auditors had already called for a reform in 2018, which the traffic light parties now want to follow according to information from the Tagesspiegel. Accordingly, there should be a uniform equipment, which should be reduced in the following years. “Since continuing obligations decrease with increasing time distance to the end of office, the Federal Chancellery must react to changes in the tasks carried out in the offices,” emphasized the authority.
For the protection of persons and the protection of the residences of the Federal Chancellor a. D. would also be spent annually in the millions from the federal budget. The Court of Auditors therefore recommends that the Federal Criminal Police Office establish a graduated protection program “the scope of which should decrease at intervals, subject to current threats”.
The President of the Taxpayers’ Association, Reiner Holznagel, supports this approach. “The bottom line is that it would make sense if the post-official facilities for former Chancellors were standardized and reduced to a necessary minimum,” he told the Tagesspiegel.
In a motion of its own, the Union faction calls for Schröder’s appointments to be almost completely abolished because of his contacts with Russia – but does not present a concept for a reform that would also affect Merkel. The traffic light coalition does not want to go along with that. In addition to the five staff positions, the budget for pension benefits and travel expenses are also to be cut according to the Union proposal. Schröder should only be allowed to keep personal security.
The left-wing financial politician and former member of the Bundestag Fabio de Masi, on the other hand, is in favor of a more radical reform: “Simply a secretariat for all former chancellors – without football teams of employees and personal security on top of that,” he tweeted.
The Chancellery is also involved in the reform project, ultimately it is about a regulation that will later also affect Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Appointments, performances, publications, public inquiries and patronage, among other things, are organized via the offices. Financing is complex: the personnel costs are borne by the Federal Chancellery. The offices themselves are in turn made available by the parliamentary group to which the former chancellor belongs. personal protection is organized by the BKA and borne by the taxpayer.
The Schröder cause is now also occupying the European Parliament. It wants to call on the EU member states to take action against former Chancellor Schröder as part of the sanctions against Russia.
According to the will of the EU Parliament, Schröder and other European politicians in the service of Russian companies should be put on the EU sanctions list. This emerges from a draft resolution available to the Tagesspiegel that was voted on by the parliamentary groups in the EU Parliament. The adoption of the resolution is also planned for next Thursday.
In addition to Schröder, the draft resolution mentions former French Prime Minister François Fillon, former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl and Austria’s ex-Prime Minister Wolfgang Bowl. That could then mean travel restrictions and asset freezes – uncomfortable times could dawn for long-time Russia recruiters.