GErhard Schröder, a “grandson” of St. Willy Brandt, never held anything sacred himself. As a politician he never followed a strict principle. He always remained flexible and paid attention to the mood in the country. It may seem all the more surprising that now, after the end of his political career, Schröder is particularly noticeable for his unwavering, one might say stubborn and dangerous loyalty to Russia's ruler and warlord Vladimir Putin.

Mona Jaeger

Deputy editor in charge of news and politics online.

Although that may not be a contradiction at all. Because Schröder has always been principle enough in his own right. He obviously doesn't have self-doubt – that's what he says, and people believe him. In an interview with the “New York Times” two years ago, he summed it up: “I’m not going to make a mea culpa.”

That was the moment when the SPD decided to finally break with Schröder. An attempt was made to remove his office in the Bundestag. A court still has to decide whether this will be successful. An attempt was made to throw him out of the party – but they didn't succeed. The never easy, rarely good relationship between the SPD Chancellor and the SPD reached a sad climax. He celebrated his 70th birthday with a big reception at which SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel spoke. Now, on the next milestone birthday, the question of whether Schröder should be congratulated is already a political issue. No politician of his stature has ever suffered such a decline in public reputation.

The rejection of the Iraq war was well received

For a long time, Schröder's close relationship with Russia was not a major problem for the SPD. Nor his policies, which paved the way to energy dependence. With realpolitik, Schröder filled in what had long been the consensus in the SPD: a good relationship with Moscow was necessary to maintain peace in Europe. The Iraq War offered a good opportunity to garnish friendship with Russia with anti-American slogans that Schröder already mastered as a Juso man in the 1970s. This was well received in the SPD. It's no wonder that they still don't forget Schröder: the German no to George W. Bush.

As recently as 2017, SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz had it written in his election program that NATO's two percent target was “wrong and nonsensical”. Schulz also got Schröder involved in the election campaign. The subsequent grand coalition under CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel was all too happy to complete the construction of the first Nord Stream pipeline, which Schröder prepared politically. Federal Economics Minister Michael Glos, a CSU man, dedicated his first trip abroad to the start of the pipeline project.

The comments from the SPD about Schröder's involvement in the Russian energy empire, which he took over a few hours after leaving office, can be summarized as follows: not good, but Schröder's private matter. In general, they wanted the former chancellor to become an understanding of the ruble instead of Russia as quickly as possible. Because the wounds that Schröder had inflicted on the SPD were still fresh. The agenda reforms initiated by Schröder were seen by the party and unions as a fall from grace, a betrayal of their own clientele and the cause of various electoral collapses. Nevertheless, the SPD achieved fantastic election results with Schröder compared to today: 40.9 percent in 1998, 38.5 percent in 2002 and 34.2 percent in the 2005 election defeat.

Parallels with Schröder and Scholz

Even as a state politician in Lower Saxony, Schröder made no secret of the fact that he wanted to rebuild the welfare state. In 1990 he conquered the state chancellery in Hanover, his hometown, and built a network that would sustain him for decades. The lawyer Schröder was a media man. He planned his career not through political committees, but through television and newspapers. Schröder's talent stood out.

In 1998, a social feeling prepared Schröder's election victory: the middle class's fear of social decline. It was a feeling not unlike today. Schröder created a “new middle”, aiming at the borderline between the Union and the SPD. Angela Merkel was later to do the same, and Olaf Scholz also had an eye on this group of voters.

The parallels between Schröder and Scholz's first months in office are astonishing. They are characterized by wars. Schröder sent German soldiers into combat for the first time since the end of the Second World War. Scholz's refusal to deliver Taurus cruise missiles to Ukraine was praised by Schröder and compared by some observers to his rejection of the Iraq mission. Schröder rejects this. He obviously doesn't want to be placed in this series.

The SPD would like to see Schröder disappear from its history. But he shaped her for many years. He made them the center party. All ideology seemed to have been overcome; there was only good or bad politics. As a hinge party, this opened up new coalition options for the SPD. But it also lost profile and clarity. This should be a big problem for the SPD after Schröder. When asked who she actually was and what she wanted, she couldn't give an answer for a long time without the alpha male Schröder.

It is uncertain whether Schröder will get satisfaction from this. It is well known that he enjoys provocation. He considers the current SPD leadership to be lightweight and amateurish. Schröder, who has never maintained party traditions, particularly annoys his party when he repeatedly asserts that he is and will remain a social democrat. This Sunday Gerhard Schröder turns 80 years old.