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Cacophony

Four months ago it looked like Chancellor Schröder was on the ropes, and would soon be down and out. The economy and the budget were in ruins, he was battered in local elections, he had a vocal but pointless policy on Iraq, he was caught between election promises and political realities, he faced dissent in his own ranks and a united opposition fully in charge of the Bundesrat.

These days it all looks different. Actually, all of those conditions still hold, except now it's the Union that is in tatters, not the SPD. An editorial (in German) in Saturday's Abendblatt describes the cacophony (a word Schröder was using 4 months ago to chastise his own party) in the Union.

A couple of examples: This past week the Merkel and Stoiber did an end-run around their own health care expert Seehofer to present a most unsocial health care plan (co-payments for everything! for everybody!). The loyal Seehofer nearly resigned, and the Bundestag debate took place without him. This coming week the cabinet will be considering moving up a planned tax cut, to be financed by cutting subsidies. The mantra of the Union for the past 2 years has been cutting taxes and subsidies, but now that it looks like Schröder is going to do it, the leading figures in the Union are rushing to protect their favorite barrels of pork (tax credit for commuters! subsidies for house buyers!). Bavaria has local elections in a couple of months, and it seems the Union will be frozen in the headlights until then.

There's nothing like a little policy-making responsibility (the firm Bundesrat majority) to show how much, or in this case, how little backbone an opposition has. The moderate Merkel, the conservative Koch, and the odd-man-out Stoiber are doing a strange dance to work out who is really in charge of the Union. It looks like the music will be playing until 2006, the next national elections, if not longer, and the only one smiling is Schröder.

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