The bosses' Chancellor may abandon ungrateful nation for New York

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The Independent Online

If the polls are anything to go by, the best his Social Democrats can hope for is to be installed as junior partners in a messy "grand coalition" with the conservatives under a Chancellor Angela Merkel and there would be no room for Mr Schröder in such an arrangement.

Ms Merkel holds out the promise of more far reaching economic changes to kick-start Germany's ailing economy. Yet she is likely to take the credit for the fruits of a process that Mr Schröder began.

Germany may have record unemployment - now close to five million - but on foreign markets the economy is booming. It is not without justification that Mr Schröder claims his country has become a "world champion exporter" under his tenure.

His programmes, though they are cautious, have at least begun to halt the 16 years of economic near-stagnation that was the legacy of Ms Merkel's conservative predecessor, Germany's "Unification Chancellor" Helmut Kohl. Mr Schröder's party's leadership had hoped that by the time of the next election his - by German standards - ambitious Agenda 2010 fiscal programme, would not only boost exports, but also transform the economy enough to start creating the jobs that so many Germans are desperate for.

But he launched his programme too late to substantially cut into Germany's record unemployment levels and voters are punishing him. His decision to call the election this Sunday - a full year earlier than planned, has compounded the problem.

Yet the real cause of his likely disappearance after this weekend lies within his own party. The "bosses' Chancellor" as he was once called, was never liked by large sections of his SPD. He was an outsider from the start - pulled in late as a sure vote-winner in 1998.

The rank and file disliked his programme of economic change even more than they disliked him. Since the launch of Agenda 2010, two years ago, thousands of Social Democrats have quit the party in protest and joined the new Left party.

Many Social Democrats still in power continue to use the 1970s terminology that was popular in the British Labour Party of that era. Mr Schröder has been unable to mobilise support for his plans because a significant majority of Social Democrats do not believe in them. There has been no "new Social Democracy" to match "new Labour", despite Mr Schröder's initial attempts to capture the middle ground.

Both developments are compelling reasons enough to call an early general election. High in his suite overlooking Manhattan, Mr Schröder will have time to mull over the consequences.