Schroder's spin-doctor pushed out

GERHARD SCHRoDER'S meandering course through the German political landscape took an astonishing turn yesterday when the Chancellor eased Bodo Hombach, the Teutonic answer to Peter Mandelson, out of government.

Mr Hombach, Mr Schroder's powerful guru, is to be recommended for the job of EU co-ordinator for the Balkan Stability Pact.

The scheme is a German idea, and Bonn therefore expects its nominee to be approved by other EU states.

In a curt statement, Mr Schroder spoke of his "best man" in glowing terms, saying that he was sacrificed with reluctance for such an important task.

Since this same Chancellor is proposing an inexperienced lightweight to the equally substantial job of EU commissioner, this explanation appeared far from complete.

Rather, Mr Hombach's removal seemed to be an attempt to mend fences with the left wing of the Social Democrat party, just as the government is pushing through right-wing economic policies. This, at least, is how Mr Schroder has operated in the past; playing factions against each other as he consolidated his own position in the middle.

Until recently, Mr Hombach was extremely useful.

His was the election strategy which propelled the Social Democrats to power last September. It was he who had articulated the ideology of the "New Centre" - German for "Third Way".

As chancellery minister, Mr Hombach built an alternative administration which sought to bypass the government that was run in the first months by Oskar Lafontaine. He was behind the dirty tricks campaign which drove Mr Lafontaine, the darling of the left, into the wilderness.

After that triumph, though, the corpulent fixer was a marked man.

The left plotted revenge, the parliamentary party openly demanded Mr Hombach's head. Despite being seen as probably the most competent member of the administration, he was blamed for the chaotic presentation of policies.

A scandal over private affairs was also refusing to go away. Strangely mirroring the fate of his British alter ego, Mr Hombach has been dogged by allegations that he did not pay for his rather splendid house entirely out of his own pocket.

Mr Hombach's departure does not signal a return to leftist policies, only weeks after the launch of the joint Blair-Schroder paper. That much was made clear yesterday, when the government presented to parliament the most austere budget in Germany's post-war history.

It was an occasion for role reversals, with the Social Democrats promising to fill corporate coffers, and the Christian Democrats pleading on behalf of the poor.

"We can no longer continue to live beyond our means," exhorted the Finance Minister, Hans Eichel. "That would be irresponsible towards our children and Germany's future."

Mr Eichel, the rising star of the moment, is proposing to shave DM30bn (pounds 10bn) off next year's budget, while cutting corporate taxes at the same time. Breaking a direct electoral pledge, pensions will not rise in line with wages for the next two years. Petrol prices will soar and social expenditure will be pruned back.

The opposition Christian Democrats, who had always wanted to pursue these kind of policies but never had enough strength to implement them under Helmut Kohl, reacted glumly. Friedrich Merz, the CDU's finance expert, was especially appalled by the government's "arbitrary intervention in the social welfare system".

After blowing a kiss to the left, Mr Schroder's logical next step is towards the right.

A reshuffle is in the air, one in which Jurgen Trittin, the Greens' quarrelsome Environment Minister, and Walter Riester, the Labour Minister, are likely to be shown the door.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most