Open-soul surgeryOpen-heart surgery is a challenge, but it's a piece of cake compared to open-soul surgery. Gerhard Schröder has not exactly proven himself as a gifted political surgeon, but he has shown considerable determination in implementing his Agenda 2010 reform project. Schröder had gotten relatively far in his attempt to remove that part of the social democratic soul that makes survival in the tough world of globalization impossible. But now the patient has reared up with its last remaining strength, grabbed the scalpel from the befuddled surgeon and fallen, exhausted but relieved, into the arms of assistant doctor Franz Müntefering.
What the patient has overlooked is that Müntefering, too, is carrying a scalpel, albeit in his pocket.
And now? Schröder has lost his power base within his party. The Social Democratic Party-Green government project has suffered its worse defeat in its five-year history.
Schröder's policy mistakes are not the key reason. It is the mistaken belief, which still prevails among large parts of the SPD and even larger parts of the German population, that miracle reforms can make everything better without taking anything away from anyone. Schröder has failed in the face of the social reality that is making itself felt even within the SPD.
The Greens' de facto leader, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, has managed to bring his party to break with its 20-year pacifist tradition; 140 years of social democracy are putting up greater resistance. It will probably take the loss of power to convince the SPD that maintaining an excessively generous social welfare state is no longer the first political priority. There may still be room for a small leftist corrective such as the Greens among the parties eligible for government, but there is no more room for a traditional, left-wing people's party. The opposition benches are now reserved for such a party.
The Greens are beginning to understand this. More and more of them no longer believe that their political post-Fischer future will necessarily be at the SPD's side. Many are now considering a possible alliance with the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union.
It was not a coincidence that Schröder gave up the chairmanship of his party at the end of a week in which the CSU leader, Edmund Stoiber, declared the Green Party a serious political actor.