Gerhard Shroeder has lost ten points in the opinion polls since he won the German general election two months ago and formed a new government. Most of his loss of popularity can be attributed to growing unemployment, which now affects ten per cent of the workforce, and a stagnant economy - but his sudden about-turn on Germany's stance in any war with Iraq cannot have helped. During the election he said that it was “clear as glass” that Germany should stay out of any such war and it was widely thought that this pledge enabled him to win the election by the narrowest of margins. Last week, however, he made two announcements that contradicted his previous position: Germany would guarantee the United States unrestricted overflights and use of their bases on German soil in the event of military action against Iraq; and would provide Israel with Patriot air defence missile systems for defence against the threat of Iraqi Scud missile attacks.

The comments Herr Shroeder made during his election campaign about America's “trigger-happy” attitude to the Iraq situation offended the White House which has effectively cold-shouldered the German leader ever since. The two conciliatory offers of help made last week will go some way, though not very far, towards mending relations with the Bush administration. Whether they will help Schroeder in his domestic difficulties is another matter entirely although he has the advantage of knowing that his election is for a fixed four-year term.