GHDI logo

The Path to New Elections in September 2005 (May-June 2005)

In his memoirs, former chancellor Gerhard Schröder describes his decision to call for new elections a year before his term came to an end. In the end, his decision was motivated by two factors: his party colleagues’ resistance to his reform program, Agenda 2010, and the defeat of the SPD in several state elections. His recollections also testify to his close friendship with former SPD chairman Franz Müntefering.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 2

[ . . . ]

I had always been able to count on my deep and restful sleep. But during my term in office, there were three occasions that left me sleepless. Kosovo and Afghanistan – both meant deciding to send young soldiers into an uncertain future. I couldn’t stop asking myself how I would be able to justify any loss of life. Such exceptional situations, the awareness of being responsible for the life and death of human beings, are among the great burdens of this office. And I also had trouble sleeping after the election disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia on May 22, 2005, during the days when Franz Müntefering and I decided to call for new elections. This affected me in a very different way. What bothered me, above all, was not knowing whether new elections would actually take place or whether they would be prevented on constitutional grounds. The decision-making power rested with the Federal President and the Federal Constitutional Court.

During this interim phase, which, for me, was a never-ending cliff-hanger, I was completely insufferable. Even now, I would like to apologize in retrospect to everyone who had to deal with me back then. During those restless nights on the ninth floor [of the chancellor’s office], I reviewed my seven years as federal chancellor. Again and again, I thought hard about the objections that had been raised [to my call for new elections] and about the doubts expressed above all by Joschka Fischer as to whether new elections were actually necessary and unavoidable. And Joschka’s opinion was very important to me. The things we had gone through together in those seven years, from Kosovo to Iraq! He had been a reliable partner the whole time, and I disliked disagreeing with him when he had trouble accepting a decision. The decision to hold new elections was one such decision.

Joschka Fischer, with whom I had shared my ideas early on, raised two essential objections. For one thing, he was concerned about the long delay between the announcement of the beginning of the process of organizing new elections and the announcement of the final decision [on the constitutionality of the elections] by the Federal Constitutional Court, which could possibly take months. Also, he believed that an improved economic situation in 2006, which everyone expected, would create a more favorable starting point for the election campaign. Both arguments had to be taken seriously, though they failed to persuade me in the end. I, too, kept wondering if there was any alternative to my chosen course.

We were still feeling the catastrophic effects of the election in North Rhine-Westphalia and, up north, of the debacle surrounding Heide Simonis, who failed to win reelection as minister president [of Schleswig-Holstein] on March 17, 2005, obviously on account of a lone sniper from within her own ranks in the state parliament [Landtag] in Kiel. After failing to secure a majority in four votes, she had no alternative but to step down. One consequence of these events was the plummeting fall of the red-green coalition in public opinion polls. The trigger for the rapid drop in public approval was the news that unemployment figures had topped the five million mark. In January 2005, there were exactly 5,037,000 registered unemployed. The increase basically resulted from the statistical effect of merging welfare benefits and [long-term] unemployment assistance – for the first time, welfare recipients who were fit for employment were included in unemployment statistics. Still, this fact in no way diminished the symbolism of that large figure. Of course, that was the main issue in the final phase of the election campaign in Schleswig-Holstein, and three months later in the election campaign in North Rhine-Westphalia. Our generally good prospects in the north withered away. The election disasters discouraged the party; that was particularly noticeable. And, for me, that posed the question of how much longer I could continue to count on support from my own ranks for my reform policies and for Agenda 2010. I wanted to put these policies to a vote in order to build up new trust. The only way I could do that was to call for early elections.

first page < previous   |   next > last page