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Young & Kent: International Relations since 1945 2e

Gerhard Schröder

Gerhard Schröder was born in the city of Mossenberg in 1944 and was forced by family circumstances to take on responsibility for himself and others at a very early age. Gerhard never knew his father, Fritz, who was killed in action in Romania shortly after he was born and whose grave was not found until the year 2000.

Gerhard Schröder completed an apprenticeship as a shop assistant and then worked in a hardware store. He took advantage of what at the time was still a rare opportunity to go to night school and finish his secondary school education. He graduated with a general certificate of education qualifying him for university entry.

In 1966 he began studying law at the University of Göttingen and graduated with a degree in law in 1970. In 1976 he opened a law practice in Hanover. He was elected National Chairman of the Young Socialists in the SPD in 1978. He succeeded in uniting what had been a strongly divided youth organization and in moving its positions closer to those of the mother party.

In 1980 Schröder was elected to parliament. When the CDU and FDP took over the reins of government in 1982 Schröder decided to continue his political career in his home state of Lower Saxony. In 1983 he was elected Chairman of the SPD Executive for the District of Hanover. In 1990 he was elected Premier of the State of Lower Saxony in a coalition with the Greens. He was re-elected to this office with an absolute majority in 1994 and again in 1998.

During his time as Premier of Lower Saxony Schröder focused on modernization of the economy, environmental and economic sustainability, as well as reform in public administration. Decisions based on broad majorities, public discourse and consensus formation became the hallmarks of Schröder's style of government.

On September 27, 1998 the SPD won the national parliamentary election with Gerhard Schröder as its leading candidate. On October 27 he was elected Chancellor on the basis of a majority in parliament constituted by a coalition formed between the SPD and Alliance '90/The Greens.

Schröder was the Federal Republic of Germany's seventh Chancellor and the first to have no personal memory of the Second World War. In the first year of his government he was faced with the need to make an important foreign policy decision, i.e. to send an armed forces contingent to Kosovo to help ensure that the systematic violation of human rights perpetrated by the Milosevic regime could not be resumed and to help create lasting stability in the Balkans.

In 1999 European financial reform as well as an initiative to get the G7 countries to grant debt forgiveness to the world's poorest countries were on the agenda under the German EU Presidency. Schröder sees this first year of his government as a foreign policy test which he passed with flying colors.

In the domestic policy sphere the Schröder government energetically set about the task of implementing the program of "innovation and social justice" it had promised in the election campaign. This included the modernization of citizenship laws, the "Green Card" work permit program for foreign IT specialists, budget consolidation, tax reform, pension reform, a series of initiatives in the areas of education and training, as well as agricultural policy reforms.

In the foreign policy sphere the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington constituted an unprecedented challenge for the German government. Chancellor Schröder immediately assured the US government of Germany's support and strongly urged the formation of an international coalition against terrorism in meetings with numerous government leaders in Europe and elsewhere in the world. In a confidence vote held in parliament on November 16, 2001 a large majority of MPs voted in favor of comprehensive involvement by German forces in the fight against terrorism.

The economic consequences of 9/11 created major challenges for the Schröder government in the early part of 2002. The resultant downturn in global business activity had an immediate effect on growth in Germany. Despite the fact that some 1.2 million new jobs had been created since Schröder took office, the level of unemployment in Germany remained high.

The ensuing political developments in the Middle East heightened tensions between the United States and Iraq in the summer of 2002. The US government argued before the United Nations that, if necessary, Iraq would have to be forced by military means to comply with UN resolutions and provide information on its arms programs. Chancellor Schröder, however, argued that an attack on Iraq would not be viewed as legitimate self-defense and could destroy the international alliance against terrorism. He said the Middle East needed a new peace, not a new war, and that his government's policies were committed to this objective. On August 28 Schröder declared that under his leadership Germany would not take part in a military intervention in Iraq.

On September 22, 2002 the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens won the national parliamentary election after a campaign that focused heavily on labor market issues and for the first time involved televised debates between the leading candidates. Gerhard Schröder was re-elected Chancellor on October 22 with a parliamentary majority constituted by the parties in the governing coalition.