Europe in turmoil: Bitter 'Red Oskar' breaks silence

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The Independent Online
OSKAR LAFONTAINE had promised a dignified silence over his dramatic resignation, and it lasted three days. While still not answering calls from the German chancellery, the former finance minister told the world yesterday he had quit because of the government's "poor teamwork".

"The mistakes we made were made by all of us," he told television crews staking out his house in Saarbrucken house. "The reason for my resignation is the poor teamwork we provided in the last few months. Without good teamwork you can't work together successfully."

There was no hiding his bitterness towards Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, who had contrived to leak his criticism of the minister to the press. "Teamwork requires that you watch out for each other and you stick together, especially in public," Mr Lafontaine added. "When the team doesn't play well together, the team has to be rebuilt."

He spoke for 10 minutes, taking no questions. He said he had been contemplating retirement from politics since 1990, when a deranged woman stabbed him in the neck at a rally. "Ever since the assassination attempt I have been asking myself how much further I want to continue."

Mr Lafontaine parted emotionally, taking a side-swipe at the government's suspect loyalties while passionately reaffirming his own. "There's something you should never forget," he said. "The heart isn't traded on the stock market yet, but it has a home. And it beats to the left."

The left heard him. After an emergency meeting yesterday the Social Democrats' youth wing demanded the resignation of Bodo Hombach, the Chancellor's fixer and the right's chief ideologue. That provoked recriminations from the other camp. Werner Muller, Economics Minister, and also close to Mr Schroder, rebutted the "poor teamwork" charge and came close to accusing Mr Lafontaine of incompetence.

"A team is only as good as the sum total of individual players," Mr Muller said. He would comment on Mr Lafontaine's abilities only so far as to say that "you can work well with a finance minister, provided he is well- prepared for his job".

German Blair

Review, page 5

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