German Elections of 2002: Aftermath and Implications for the United States

CRS Report for Congress
German Elections of 2002: Aftermath and
Implications for the United States
September 27, 2002
Francis T. Miko
Specialist in International Relations
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

German Elections of 2002: Aftermath and Implications
for the United States
The German parliamentary elections of September 22, 2002, returned
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his Red-Green coalition by the narrowest of
margins. The Chancellor begins his second term weakened by the slimness of his
coalition’s majority in parliament and the lack of a clear mandate from the voters.
He must deal with serious economic problems left over from his first term. He also
faces the challenge of overcoming tensions with the United States brought on by his
sharp campaign statements condemning U.S. Iraq policy that may have won him the
Many now wonder whether Schroeder will exercise fiscal discipline and take
unpopular steps needed to restructure the economy. The EU is at a critical stage in
its further evolution and needs Germany’s very active leadership to meet the
challenges of enlargement and continued progress as an economic and political
entity. Here, Germany’s economic stagnation and domestic preoccupations could
hurt. EU efforts to move forward on the European Security and Defense Policy
(ESDP) are also affected by a need for Germany’s action. Germany supports ESDP
but unless it increases its defense spending substantially, no serious European
defense capability is likely. Germany is a primary supporter of the EU’s further
enlargement. For EU enlargement to move forward, some very difficult agreements
need to be concluded on thorny issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy
The most serious immediate fallout from the election may be to U.S.-German
relations. Some observers are confident that these incidents represent a relatively
minor tiff that will soon blow over. Others are less certain about the impact, noting
that this episode may reflect deeper underlying differences that have accumulated
over time. Germany remains one of the most important U.S. allies. But differences
on policy and principle, pushed aside by the events of September 11, 2001, and
Germany’s immediate offer of unprecedented support for the United States, have
resurfaced. If differences continue to mount, some are concerned that they could
begin to erode the foundations of the relationship. The consequences of such a trend
could be serious for bilateral relations, the future of the EU, and for NATO. This
report may be updated as warranted.

In troduction ..................................................1
The Election Outcome..........................................1
Election Aftermath and Implications...............................4
U.S.-German Relations.........................................5

German Elections of 2002: Aftermath and
Implications for the United States
The German parliamentary elections of September 22, 2002, returning
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his Red-Green coalition by the narrowest of
margins, ended an election campaign that saw several lead changes. For the first time
unaffiliated swing voters were the largest single group. A year earlier, the popular
Chancellor had seemed invincible. Subsequently, the Christian Democratic Union
(CDU)-Christian Social Union (CSU) candidate, Bavarian CSU leader Edmund
Stoiber, focusing on the economy, was able to overtake Schroeder and build a
sizeable lead in the polls by the summer of 2002. Based on results of state elections
and national polls, a resurgent Free Democratic Party (FDP), a “liberal” party in the
classic European sense, was thought incorrectly to be poised to assume the “king
maker” role1, as the Green Party seemed to be fading. In the days leading up to the
election, Chancellor Schroeder — boosted in eastern Germany by his quick handling
of post-flood recovery there and the perceived ineffectiveness of the Stoiber
campaign — pulled even with his main rival.
Analysts had predicted that foreign policy would play little role in the outcome
of the elections. Chancellor Schroeder’s strong stance of “unlimited solidarity” with
the United States after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had wide public support. His
decision to commit German military forces to the War on Terrorism, an
unprecedented and politically risky move, also had popular approval. The election
campaign centered on domestic issues until the final days when the Social
Democratic Party (SPD) leader made Iraq a central campaign focus.
The Election Outcome
With 79 percent of the eligible population voting, the final outcome of the
election was extremely close, returning the center-left Social Democrats and
environmentalist Greens to power with a very narrow majority in the Bundestag. The
SPD and the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) in alliance with their sister
party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), each got 38.5 percent of the vote,
close to what the final polls had shown. The surprise shift in the final results was the
stronger than expected showing of the Greens with 8.6 percent of the vote and the
weaker performance of the FDP at 7.4 percent. As expected, the Party of Democratic
Socialism (PDS), the successor party to the former Communist Party of East

1 With neither major party able to gain enough votes for an outright majority, it was widely
believed that the FDP would garner enough votes to decide the make-up of the next
government, depending on which major party it agreed to join in coalition.

Germany, with 4.2 percent did not make the 5 percent threshold, although two PDS
candidates did get seats in the Bundestag by virtue of their direct election. As a
result, the majority coalition gained 306 seats in the Bundestag, 251 seats for the SPD
and 55 for the Greens. The CDU/CSU won 248 seats, the FDP gained 47 seats, and
the PDS gained 2 seats. No far right candidates won election to the Bundestag.
Coalition talks between the SPD and Greens began days after the elections. The
new Bundestag is required to convene by October 22, 2002. Its first task will be to
elect the new Bundestag President. The current President Wolfgang Thierse is
expected to be reelected. The formal vote for Chancellor will follow.
Chancellor Schroeder and the SPD are believed to have been helped by the
power of incumbency and the general German preference for continuity over change.
He was able to showcase his political skills and more dynamic style in the first ever
direct TV debates between candidates for Chancellor. His quick and effective
leadership in responding to the emergency caused by severe flooding helped him,
especially among east Germans. In the end, though, the Iraq issue may have been
decisive in the outcome, especially since it diverted public attention from the
economic issues on which Mr. Schroeder was most vulnerable. The Chancellor
played to widespread anti-war sentiment in Germany, especially core SPD-Green
voters and voters in east Germany, declaring that he would not support U.S. led
military action against Iraq, even if it had UN Security Council approval. His position
echoed the sentiments of a majority of Germans but his decision to use attacks on
U.S. policy as a campaign tool was seen as highly unusual. He may have been hurt
among some voters by what they saw as rhetorical excesses over Iraq that went
beyond the criticism from other EU partners. A particular embarrassment was his
Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin’s reported statement making comparisons
between President Bush and Adolf Hitler, for which her resignation was accepted the
day after the election. The SPD was also tarnished by scandals over payments
received from lobbyists that led to the firing of Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping
and a party financing scandal in the state of Northrhine-Westphalia similar to those
that had earlier undone the CDU.
The Greens and the governing coalition were helped by the energetic campaign
waged by Green Party leader and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who
personally has the highest approval rating among German politicians. As the
traditionally pacifist leaning party, the Greens may have picked up much of the last
minute anti-war vote. The outcome reversed a steady decline in Green Party fortunes,
that had led many observers to write off any possibility that it would be returned to
government no matter which party won the most votes. The practical realities and
trade-offs of being in the governing coalition led Green officials to support
government decisions that were alien to their environmentalist and pacifist base. The
Greens also had to face scandal with the forced resignation of their domestic affairs
spokesman Cem Ozdemir, a prominent politician of Turkish decent.
In selecting Bavarian leader Stoiber as their candidate for Chancellor, the
CDU/CSU bypassed Angela Merkel, the current CDU Chairperson. She would have
been the first woman and the first east German nominated for the position. In light
of the election outcome, especially the Party’s weak showing in eastern Germany, the
decision to go with Stoiber may be second guessed by some. Edmund Stoiber’s

appeal was tied to his strong record on economic and education policy, as CSU leader
of Bavaria, Germany’s most prosperous state. His effort to defeat Chancellor
Schroeder on the issue of his economic record for a time seemed to be working but
in the end did not succeed. Several reasons have been suggested, including
Schroeder’s success at changing the subject away from the economy, Stoiber’s own
timid and unclear campaign approach to economic reform, the widespread belief that
the cost of German reunification rather than bad government policies is the cause of
the country’s economic problems, and the reality that most Germans are still
relatively well-off and risk-averse to radical change. He tried also to capitalize on
reports showing the steep decline in the level of German education compared to other
industrialized countries, and compared to Bavaria. In Germany, education policy is
determined by the states. He made immigration a central issue, opposing more liberal
policies and recommendations. He presented himself as the law and order candidate,
calling for more aggressive efforts to root out extremists and terrorists, in the
aftermath of the Al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
Stoiber also criticized Chancellor Schroeder for not offering stronger support
to America in fighting terrorism and for the vehemence of his opposition to the
United States on Iraq. However, once it became clear how well Schroeder’s anti-war
message was playing with voters, Stoiber appeared to flip-flop, stressing that he too
would not support German participation in an Iraq war.
Stoiber faced an uphill battle from the start. It was not clear whether Germans
outside southern Germany would be ready to accept a Bavarian as leader, given the
strong regional differences among Germany’s Protestant north, eastern Germany, and
the Roman Catholic south. By comparison to the more dynamic Schroeder, Stoiber
was seen by many as plodding and old-fashioned. Still, the election outcome, a
virtual tie between Stoiber and Schroeder, was not seen as a complete defeat. Stoiber
was able to bring the CDU/CSU back from ruin in the 1998 elections, following the
financial scandal that led to the departure of Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The drop in support for the FDP after the party’s steady gains may have been the
biggest factor in Stoiber’s defeat for Chancellor, although even if the FDP had done
much better, it might have sided either with the CDU or SPD. State election results
and public opinion polls showed solid gains for the FDP in the year leading up to the
elections. FDP leaders defined their goal as winning 18 percent of the vote. The
FDP ran as the liberal free market reform party, pressing for structural changes in the
German economy, cuts in industry subsidies, lower taxes, changes to the German
collective bargaining system, cuts in non-wage worker benefits, reform of the
education system, and a more pro-American foreign policy. The Party’s
unexpectedly weak showing in the election may have resulted in part from the
decision not to signal whom they would join in coalition in advance of the vote. The
FDP likely was also hurt by the controversy over remarks by its Deputy Chairman,
Jurgen Mölleman, attacking Israeli policies toward the Palestinians under Arial
Sharon in a way that some construed as anti-Semitic as he engaged in a public
dispute with German Jewish leaders. Although FDP Chairman Guido Westerwelle
condemned such remarks and asked Mölleman to apologize, the issue did not go
away, and proved to be an embarrassment for the Party. Following the election,
Mölleman was forced to resign.

The PDS probably lost votes to the SPD as a result of Chancellor Schroeder’s
quick help to victims of the flooding in east Germany. It was also weakened by the
forced resignation of its most prominent leader, Gregor Gysi, over his illegal personal
use of frequent flyer miles earned while on official duty, a charge that has ensnared
a number of politicians.
Election Aftermath and Implications
Gerhard Schroeder begins his second term as Chancellor weakened by the
slimness of his coalition’s majority in parliament and the lack of a clear mandate
from the voters. He faces a series of problems left over from his first term, especially
high unemployment and economic stagnation. To right the economy he is expected
to have to make difficult and painful choices. He also faces the challenge of
overcoming or managing the tensions with the United States that could affect not
only transatlantic relations but European relations and German domestic politics, as
Chancellor Schroeder has identified himself as a new type of German leader and
a “new social democrat” in the Tony Blair mold who is not wedded to traditional pro-
labor socialist policies. In his first term, he introduced large income tax cuts;
eliminated some capital gains taxes; and won passage of an immigration law.
However, facing the likelihood of election defeat he returned to traditional SPD pro-
labor union positions in the campaign. Many now wonder whether he will be willing
to exercise fiscal discipline and take unpopular steps needed to restructure the
economy. The new government is promising to restrict federal spending, cut the
deficit, and achieve a balanced budget by 2006. He needs to balance Germany’s need
for greater labor mobility and flexibility with the SPD commitment to worker
security. The Chancellor has accepted the recommendations of the Hartz
Commission to partially deregulate the labor market. In order to create jobs and
reduce unemployment, experts think Germany will have to bring down labor costs,
which are among the highest in the world. Such steps would have the support of
business leaders who have long called for similar changes. It is not clear whether he
will have broader support, especially among his SPD base. He has already had to
postpone the next round of proposed tax cuts because of the costs of recovery from
recent flooding. Chancellor Schroeder will be under strong pressure to meet his thus
far unfulfilled promise to reduce unemployment sharply from its level of almost 10
In foreign policy, Chancellor Schroeder prides himself with having returned
Germany to “normalcy” among nations, a country like others that acts and speaks out
in its own national self-interest and is less hesitant to seek influence commensurate
with its size and economic strength (as the world’s third largest economy). In
pursuing distinctly German interests in bilateral relations, in the European Union, and
on broader international issues, and sometimes talking about a distinct “German
way”, some worry that Schroeder may be de-emphasizing the two traditional pillars
of German foreign policy: Transatlantic ties and an EU policy centered on the
Franco-German relationship. Such concerns may be overstated as German officials
emphasize that the country will not go it alone. However, the challenges of
reunification have absorbed much of Germany’s attention and resources over the past

decade. Arguably, this has made Germany more inwardly focused and kept it from
exercising stronger leadership in Europe and the world.
Germany has traditionally been the engine of EU economic growth and further
political development. Germany still views the EU as central to its political and
economic future. Other EU members account for almost 50% of Germany’s trade.
Germany is a key actor in setting EU policy and the largest net contributor to the EU
budget. The EU is at a critical stage in its further evolution and needs Germany’s
very active leadership by persuasion and example to meet the challenges of
enlargement and continued progress as an economic and political entity. This is
where Germany’s economic stagnation and domestic preoccupations could hurt.
Germany’s economic growth continues to lag behind the other twelve members of
the Euro-Zone. Germany has been unable to meet some of its EU commitments. The
German budget deficit this year could exceed the 3 percent limit allowed under the
EU Stability and Growth Pact.
EU efforts to move forward on the European Security and Defense Policy
(ESDP) are also affected by Germany’s failure to do its part. Germany supports
ESDP but unless it increases its defense spending substantially and grapples seriously
with reforming its armed forces, a robust European defense capability is unlikely.
German defense spending remains at roughly 1.6% of GDP, as compared with the
United States at over 3%, France at 2.6%, and Britain at 2.4%.2
Germany is a primary supporter of the EU’s further enlargement as a means to
ensure political and economic stability on Germany’s eastern border. Germany sees
its prosperity as tied to the fortunes of candidate countries. Germany is the major
Western trading partner of every country in central and eastern Europe and a leading
source of foreign direct investment. For enlargement to move forward, some very
difficult agreements need to be concluded on thorny issues such as the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) and several other EU issues also. Chancellor Schroeder’s
strained relations with French President Chirac add to the difficulty of finding
common ground. By contrast, Chancellor Schroeder and Prime Minster Tony Blair
have a very good working relationship that has brought Germany and Britain closer
in the EU.
U.S.-German Relations
The most serious immediate fallout from the election may be to U.S.-German
relations. Gerhard Schroeder’s decision to make U.S. policy in Iraq a central
campaign theme and the perceived excesses of his anti-U.S. rhetoric touched a raw
nerve in the White House. Administration spokesmen called Schroeder’s remarks
“poisonous” and “over the top”, unbefitting an ally. They were particularly incensed
by his Justice Minister’s comparison of President Bush to Adolf Hitler, and
Schroeder’s failure to fire her immediately, although she was forced to resign the day
after the election. Schroeder did not get the customary U.S. message of
congratulations following his election victory and his initial steps to make amends
were brushed aside.

2 The International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Military Balance, 2001-2002, p.299.

Some observers are confident that these incidents represent a relatively minor
tiff brought on by the heat of battle in the German elections. Since relations are too
important for either side to allow to deteriorate, they are confident that the tensions
will soon blow over. They argue that Chancellor Schroeder in his election bid was
playing to anti-war rather than anti-American sentiment. However, others are less
certain about the impact, noting that this episode may represent deeper underlying
differences that have accumulated over time and that could end up fundamentally
altering the relationship.
In terms of the immediate issue of Iraq, the U.S. Administration probably never
expected that Germany would or could play a direct role in any military action. The
German government is unlikely to change its views on Iraq but may mute its
criticism, particularly if Saddam Hussein balks at inspections, the UN Security
Council gives its approval for military action, and if other major European countries
decide to participate. Germany might offer indirect help, such as increasing its role
in the Balkans and assuming command of the international force in Afghanistan. If
the German government were to refuse the use of U.S. bases on its soil for operations
in Iraq, that could present serious problems for military planners. Although some
German politicians have called for such a stance, the government has given no
indication that it would take the step.
Germany remains one of the most important U.S. allies. The German
government plays a constructive role in NATO and is supportive of the United States
in the European Union. The United States continues to station some 70,000 troops
in Germany. Germany is a key trading partner and a major source of foreign
investment in the United States, as is the United States for Germany. Membership
in the North Atlantic Alliance and a close relationship with the United States have
also been the basis of German foreign policy since the foundation of the Federal
Republic, regardless of who formed the German government and largely unaffected
by partisan politics. Fundamentally, the Schroeder government policy toward the
United States has been consistent with previous governments, despite initial
uncertainty about some leaders in the SPD-Green coalition, like Green Party Foreign
Minister Joschka Fischer, who played an active part in the 1968 student protests
which were often directed against U.S. policies. Germany is a principal U.S. military
partner in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and number of its forces is second only to
those of the United States in the latter. Germans have a generally positive attitude
toward the United States and share U.S. democratic values. Americans and Germans,
at least the general publics, are not even too far apart on major issues such as the
threat posed by terrorism and Saddam Hussein, according to a recent poll sponsored
by the German Marshall Fund and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.3
Differences on policy and principle have been apparent in a number of areas
since the Bush Administration took office.4 To some extent, these were pushed aside

3 William Drozdiak in the Washington Post, September 8, 2002.
4 Environmental concerns are a big issue in Germany, especially with the Greens in
government. Germans are still very upset over U.S. opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on
Climate Change. They do not understand the U.S. opposition to and wanting to exempt its

by the events of September 11, 2001, when there was a strong outpouring of German
sympathy and solidarity with Americans. Chancellor Schroeder showed courage and
resolve by getting the Bundestag to agree to deploy troops for the first time on a
combat mission outside of Europe to Afghanistan and elsewhere, narrowly winning
a vote of no-confidence. However, with the passage of time since the events of
September 11, differences have resurfaced. The German government is still very
supportive in the fight against terrorism but German experts and the media have been
increasingly critical of the U.S. approach. Germans see terrorism as just one of many
problems facing them rather than an all-consuming struggle. Over the past three
decades, Germany has experienced numerous terrorist attacks at home and against
its citizens abroad. Many Germans also feel that the United States is relying too
heavily on military instruments and solutions.
As the war has expanded beyond Afghanistan, Germans have become
increasingly worried about next steps. President Bush’s “axis of evil” remarks in his
State of the Union speech linking Iraq, Iran, and North Korea received a very
negative response in Germany. German officials did not agree with the assessments
and many Germans began to question underlying U.S. motives. Since 2000,
Germany has sought to improve its relations with Iran and recently signed a new
trade agreement. The United States, on the other hand, sees German and other
European approaches to dealing with countries such as Iran and Iraq as not facing up
to the longer term proliferation threat such regimes pose while pursuing short term
commercial interests.
The U.S. Administration receives criticism from Germany and other allies over
what are seen as narrowly self-serving U.S. policies and a U.S. tendency increasingly
to decide and act on its own, or consult partners only after decisions are made when
their assistance is needed, without taking their views seriously into account. German
observers recognize this as a consequence of the growing gap in U.S. and allied
military power and capabilities. Nevertheless, they see contributions of allies as
being under-appreciated and the permanent U.S. alliances as being undervalued,
while the Administration draws on short-term “coalitions of the willing.”
Several key factors color German views. First, Germans are extremely sensitive
about issues of war and killing. Given the historical context, most have viewed this
as a positive aspect of Germany’s evolution. But it explains the German reluctance
to support the use of force in most circumstances, the deep concern over the collateral
damage to civilians, and the puzzlement over the U.S. readiness to go to war. It
may also explain the passion of German opposition to the death penalty. The
Schroeder government has shown in Kosovo and Afghanistan that it can take military
action and even win public support when the need is clearly articulated and
recognized, although it is telling that the Germans do not use the term “war” to
describe the campaign against terrorism. Regarding Iraq, German officials like many

4 (...continued)
citizens from the creation of an International Criminal Court. They continue to support arms
control and are critical of U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the
U.S. emphasis on missile defense.

Europeans are not convinced of an imminent threat or that war is necessary to control
Saddam Hussein.
Second, historical experience has also raised sensitivities about compromising
the application of the rule of law and civil liberties even for the sake of security.
German officials are at odds with the United States concerning the status of
prisoners, particularly the Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has argued that all detainees should be granted
formal status as prisoners of war. Germans have also criticized U.S. plans to use
military tribunals to try at least some of the terrorist suspects. Cooperation regarding
captured terrorists has been complicated by German laws and regulations. On the
U.S. side there has been some impatience with the slow pace of German arrests of
suspected terrorists. German law does not allow extradition of a person wanted by
another country if there is a possibility that person might be executed as a result.
Germany has interpreted its laws to forbid even provision of evidence relating to such
a case, if that information might lead to the imposition of a death sentence. The
United States has been seeking to obtain documents from Germany related to the case
of “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, thus far unsuccessfully. The German
government has indicated that it would provide the information sought if it received
assurances that Moussaoui would not receive the death sentence based on that
information. Given the evidence that key terrorist cells were based in Germany, this
issue could be a continuing irritant.
The United States in turn is critical of German approaches to some problems.
U.S. and even some German experts blame the German government for downplaying
the threat posed by terrorists and “rogue states” that possess weapons of mass
destruction. U.S. officials continue to call on the German government to commit
more resources to strengthening and adapting German defense capabilities in order
to meet the emerging security challenges. They have been frustrated by the slow
progress of German military restructuring and reform, on the books since 2000, due
to budget cuts. Germany’s limited lift capability to move its forces beyond German
territory was demonstrated by the delays in deploying troops to Afghanistan.
The concern among some observers is that as differences continue to mount,
they could begin to erode the foundations of the relationship. Since the end of the
Cold War, there is no mutually recognized clear and present danger that dictates that
the two countries must stand together at any cost. Increasingly, there are voices on
both sides questioning the continued relevance of the alliance. Some in Germany see
the threats faced by the United States as a reaction to U.S. policies and therefore not
equally facing them, or facing them only because of their association with the U.S.
On the U.S. side, some go-it-alone advocates see allies primarily as an
impediment to U.S. freedom of action, while not contributing much to U.S. strength.
At present these are decidedly minority views. Most still see the alliance as very
relevant to the continued well-being of both countries. However, if the United States
and Germany were to drift apart, the consequences could be very serious beyond
bilateral relations. Further European integration could be set back as individual EU
and NATO countries tried to position themselves in the new environment.
Alternately, to maintain its cohesion, Europe as a whole could distance itself from
the United States, making U.S.-EU relations far more difficult.