Schröder may lose German State elections amid welfare protests

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s
Social Democratic Party is likely to suffer a defeat in the
upcoming regional state elections amid anger over planned
cuts to jobless benefits, polls show.

Regional elections are to take place in 16 German
States in the coming weeks, starting with Saarland this
weekend. Surveys show the centre-right Christian
Democratic Union (CDU) may retain majorities in the
Saarland and Saxony state assemblies. According to the
polls, the Social Democrats will be losing their position
as the largest party in Brandenburg to the former East
German communists, and lagging behind the main opposition
CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous
state. 

Schröder, who plans to stand for a third term in
the 2006 elections, has cut payments to the unemployed,
reduced workers’ protection against being fired and
curbed health-care benefits in an attempt to rein in the
budget deficit and spur growth in Europe’s largest
economy. These reforms sparked protests by as many as
70,000 people during the weekly Monday demonstrations in
Eastern Germany. The social cutbacks introduced by
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s coalition government
have already played a significant role in the defeat the
party suffered in June when it secured only 21.5 percent
of the vote in the elections for the European Parliament,
its worst showing ever in a nationwide
election. 

Schröder’s difficulties in “selling” the
necessary economic and social reforms underline one of
the weak spots of the Lisbon agenda. Governments can make
big commitments at European level but when it comes to
implementing them nationally they risk being electorally
punished or facing large-scale street protests. 

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