Gerhard Schröder

(b. 1944) German Social Democratic Party statesman

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(b. 7 Apr. 1944).

Chancellor of Germany, 1998–2005

Early career

Born in Mossenberg, he completed an apprenticeship as a salesman while completing his high school exams at night school. Schröder studied law at Göttingen University, and from the age of 19 became active in politics. He joined the SPD and in 1978 became head of its federal youth organization. Schröder became a member of the federal parliament in 1980, and in 1986 became Minister President in the state of Lower Saxony. A pragmatic politician without any discernible ideological commitments, his brash, undisguised hunger for power made him few friends in the federal SPD in the early 1990s. However, as one SPD leader after another faltered against Helmut Kohl, he finally won the party's nomination for Chancellor in 1998.

In office

Schröder led his party to victory in its second best result since 1949, and formed a coalition with the Green Party, commanding a comfortable majority in the federal parliament. His majority in the second chamber of states, however, eroded within a year, and it was not until the retreat of the left-wing Lafontaine from government that his authority began to solidify. Schröder's domestic political position was further enhanced by a corruption scandal involving the CDU. His government tried to establish itself firmly as a party of the centre ground, by introducing moderate pension reform and increasing social security benefits, and realizing a tax reform.

Even though Schröder failed to fulfil his promise and reduce unemployment, he won the 2002 elections on the promise to keep German troops out of any Iraq War. As the German economy continued to lag behind other states, Schröder began to initiate some drastic reforms of the labour market. This divided the SPD, which lost control of most states, including its bastion of North-Rhine Westfalia in 2005. Always at his best when pushed into a corner, Schröder called new elections. Although the SPD lost, it confounded expectations of electoral meltdown owing to Schröder's impressive electoral performance. Schröder immediately retired from politics, to take up a number of lucrative positions, including at the Russian energy giant Gazprom, at the behest of his political friend, Vladimir Putin.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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