German chancellor's party suffers setbacks

Defeats signal erosion of support for Schroeder

September 13, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BERLIN -- The political plight of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder intensified yesterday as his Social Democratic Party was thrown out of government in the eastern state of Thuringia and suffered severe setbacks in the Ruhr, Germany's industrial heartland.

The plunge in support for Schroeder, who swept to power a year ago, was symbolized by his party's failure to win municipal elections in Dortmund. The city is so tied to the labor movement that it was called "the capital of the Social Democratic Party" by former Chancellor Willy Brandt.

After defeats in the Saarland and in Brandenburg a week ago, the results yesterday amounted to an unmistakable message that Schroeder has squandered his wide popularity through what seems to be a mixture of unfortunate hesitations, unconvincing policy and serious errors of style.

The chancellor's repeated appearances in luxury Brioni suits, his penchant for fat Cuban cigars and his much-publicized monthlong August vacation in the Italian resort of Positano have not helped as he argues for austerity as a bitter, but necessary, pill for a state-heavy German economy.

Nor have a series of party scandals involving insider trading, tax fraud and prostitution helped the Social Democrats as they appear unsure of their message.

He has not been able to keep his electoral promise to cut unemployment, running at more than 10 percent nationwide and more than 20 percent in many parts of the former East Germany. The powerful German economy is stalled.

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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