Schroder says `we moved too fast'

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The Independent Online
CHANCELLOR GERHARD Schroder marked his first 100 days of power by admitting that his government had made mistakes. "We overlooked the fact that you don't have to implement all the election promises you made for the whole legislature in the first 100 days," the German leader said yesterday at the Davos world economic summit. "When you move at the pace we did, human error is bound to creep in."

Few governments had promised so little, yet delivered so much entertainment as Germany's new administration. Gerhard Schroder had entered office pledging to do things not very differently from his predecessors, only better. As his period of grace expires today, the commentators, even those naturally inclined towards the left, feel let down. The word finding its way most frequently onto newsprint is "chaos".

Presaged by the resignation of a minister-in-waiting, Mr Schroder's cabinet has been lurching from one crisis to the next ever since. As they celebrate their first 100 days in office, most of the new team will readily admit that things can only improve.

The Greens have just had a "crash-course in government", admitted their parliamentary leader, Rezzo Schlauch. Considering his party had never before been in power at the federal level, they had not done too badly, he added.

The Social Democrats, too, are pleading for extenuating circumstances. They had become rusty in their 16 years in the wilderness, and underestimated the difficulty of running a country, they say.

Even before the cabinet could be assembled, Mr Schroder had lost Jost Stollmann, the independent-minded businessman who was to have occupied the chair at the Economic Ministry. Mr Stollmann had fallen victim to the machinations of Oskar Lafontaine, now Finance Minister.

Then came the "environmental tax", a Green hobby-horse that was to free funds for job creation while saving the planet. But Mr Lafontaine found himself having to dole out exemptions to smoke-stack industries, thus provoking the Greens. The government is still haggling over the details.

When not adding and removing tax burdens, Mr Lafontaine was trying to "harmonise" taxes in the European Union, dictating interest rates to the banks, and constructing a new architecture to deter international financial speculators. None of his plans has come to anything, but his notoriety in the rest of Europe is assured.

Mr Lafontaine was eventually reined in. These days he is kept busy by the economic realities of a falling growth rate, unemployment again on the rise, and his chums in the unions staging nationwide strikes in support of a 6.5 per cent wage claim.

The chief mischief-makers of the moment are the Greens, particularly the Environment Minister, Jurgen Trittin. It is on nuclear policy that the government has been most shambolic, toing and froing on the ban on reprocessing and the closure of plants.

There is no final date for either, to Mr Schroder's great delight and to the Greens' evident pain. But the negotiations with the power industry have begun, at the end of which Germany will begin phasing out nuclear energy. In years to come, that will be seen by the left as a great achievement, and the rows between reds and greens along the way will appear to have been trifling.

Many of the policies the reds and greens have launched together are promising. Despite the endless fiascos, the voters seem to be in a forgiving mood. After an initial slump, poll ratings are up, and Mr Schroder, blessed by a feeble opposition, has a commanding lead in the popularity stakes.

On balance, the first 100 days could have been worse.

100 Days in Power

THE HIGHS

Immigration: Millions of foreign residents will be naturalised with reform of the racially based citizenship law of 1913. Due to be enacted this summer.

The past: Fund to be established this year to compensate slave workers of the Nazi period. Compromise over design of Berlin's Holocaust Memorial ends a decade of dithering.

Nuclear power: Legislation to phase out nuclear power over several decades. First plants expected to close within the lifetime of the current parliament.

Europe: Currently holding the EU presidency, the government has set a hectic pace for reform. It wants to settle finances, including its own rebate, by March.

...AND LOWS

Taxes: No sign of a plan to deal with the simple problem that German workers cost too much.

Jobs: Planned pact between employers and employees seems Utopian. Nothing concrete achieved at first meeting.

Diplomacy: Several ministers fail to understand that Bismarckian methods of conducting dialogue with neighbours no longer work.

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