by MONITOR
Although the circumstances are different there is are certain connections to be discerned between the unexpected decision of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder to hold an election in September, more than one full year before he needs to do so, and Tony Blair's expected retirement from the British political scene within the next two years or so. It is not all that long ago that these two men, then newly elected, shared a platform under the aegis of “Third Way” politics but since then their ways and fortunes have diverted. With virtually full employment and relative prosperity Mr Blair has been able to pursue a policy of public service reform backed by huge financial investment. By contrast Herr Schroder has presided over high unemployment and a general disillusionment among voters with the Social Democratic solution to Germany's problems, among them the still unresolved issue of the full integration of the former East Germany into a unified state. Herr Shroder's decision to call an early election followed the defeat of his party last weekend in North Rhine Westphalia, a stronghold for almost 40 years. However, it is not at all clear why he chose this unnecessarily rapid response to the defeat; if it was symptomatic of sentiment throughout the country, a policy of wait and see would at least have given time for the polticial tide to change. However Schroder may have calculated that an early election will catch his main opposition, the Christian Democrats, unprepared and with an untested leader only recently installed. This is Angela Merkel, who is likely to be nominated next week as the first woman to lead a German political party in a challenge for the Chancellorship. Merkel lived in East Germany until 1990 and since then has risen steadily through the ranks of the Christian Democracts; no one doubts her ability but she lacks charisma and is not a seasoned campaigner. Schroder may calculate that he can beat her on the hustings, regardless of the issues on voters' minds.