The Mystery of Red Oskar

Michael Pollak mpollak at
Sat Mar 13 10:20:37 PST 1999

I don't understand this double resignation at all. I understand that he and Schroeder have always been at loggerheads. But up to the moment before he resigned, Lafontaine seemed to have been holding all the cards. The party liked him better. He not only got a key ministry, he expanded its power and drove that Silicon valley guy out before the government even took office. He seemed to be winning every battle (to the horror of the business community) and was widely seen as the main voice in government. In the Hesse election, there was no evidence that any of this was hurting the SPD with voters.

Schroeder, on the other hand, seemed to be a man that couldn't unify his government, where the only effective action was being taken by his fac totem Bodo Hombach. For good or bad, every initiative his government has taken has come from one of his ministers, whether Fischer or Trittin or Lafontaine. Schroeder barked down Trittin and backed Fischer, but he's been basically mute on Lafontaine until this very mild criticism of his tax plan -- which, it is now clear, he didn't really mean, since he's not changing it.

So for the last 4 months, every sign pointed to Lafontaine gaining more power and political capital, to the horror of his enemies and the joy of his supporters, and Schroeder losing it. That's what makes this sudden double resignation such a mystery to me. It would be different if roles were reversed, if Schroeder had resigned, or if the last four months had been him enforcing the business-friendly agenda and Lafontaine chafing under it. But this seems to be a goal totally against the flow of the game, as the soccer commentators say.

I persist in thinking that either there is a personal explanation (which isn't obvious on the surface, since Oskar has always been so happy scrapping, and now he's winning as much ever he could have hoped when he made his original electoral pact); or there is political payoff. I wonder if there any chance he might have decided he'd have more impact as the President of the European Commission? The position is falling open, and what it means will be up to the man that takes it. Europe is left, and they are supposedly looking for someone strong again, more like Delors than Santer. He couldn't be French again, but he sure could be German. If Schroeder made a deal with Lafontaine to push his candidacy vigorously if he'd leave Germany to him, then the thing would make sense to me.

But I'd be glad to get any other reasonable explanation. It's just this lack of any explanation that bugs me and makes me think I must not be understanding correctly how German government works.


__________________________________________________________________________ Michael Pollak................New York City..............mpollak at

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