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As Germany prepares for elections due to take place on 18 September, all eyes are turned to anyone even remotely connected to government or opposition. The mass media has begun beating the drums of war, in a manner of speaking, and chasing the headlines every which way they can. If the headlines don't come to them, then they are sought; as has been the case with the Bild Zeitung (a gutter press publication mainly concerned with scandals and sex).
The editors at Bild have been following their own plan to try and discredit the current government under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for the last few weeks, pulling out scandal after scandal on illegal payments, secondary jobs and the like in order to convince their readers that the SPD is unsuitable to remain in government. Mainly they have targeted peripheral personalities who have often, it must be said, brought the wrath that follows down upon their own heads. Bild, however, has tried going for a slightly bigger bite of the pie in its attempts to discredit Schroeder himself. They have attempted to show that none of the local party members or organisations are willing to use Schroeder as their figurehead - due to a lack of confidence - and have refused to use election posters featuring his photograph. Were it true, this would indeed be a mighty blow against the government in their bid to seek re-election. Truth, however, has nothing to do with the story, as the Bild has discovered. Their reporters have resorted to telephoning the smallest elements of the party to try and find even one person who doesn't wish Schroeder's image to be used, and failed in their task.
In the meantime, the main opposition party, the CDU, has been making its own headlines, and few of them have been good ones. Angela Merkel, the potential Chancellor should the CDU win the election, confused Brutto and Netto incomes during a recent discussion, and failed to show any knowledge of how percentage points function, claiming that certain changes to non-tax payments directly deducted from the wage packets of workers would increase their Brutto incomes by two percent, rather than their Netto income by two percentage points.
In recent months further strange things have been featured in the press from the CDU, which have added to their recent losses in the opinion polls. There was the - now resigned - CDU minister in Bremen who poured champagne over a man standing in front of a stage where he had just given a speech; the man just happened to be a homeless person and, not only was he suitably insulted by the dousing with champagne, but managed to cry for the cameras.
In Lower Saxony the financing of remedial education at Kindergarten level for children with language problems has been drastically reduced, shortly after the appropriate minister claimed that Kindergarten children were a priority in his educational system. One small Kindergarten in Doerverden containing 162 children with a requirement for 60% of them to take remedial German was curtly informed that 60% was all well and good, but in future only schools with a 70% requirement would be financed. The same minister, Bernd Busemann, was then noted as having reassigned finances for education anew, with his own region gaining the lion's share of the money and areas where the need is perhaps greater coming out with next to nothing. Mr Busemann is not up for re-election as he works in local government.
And then we have the remarkably unfortunate comments of Joerg Schoenbohm, the Home Office Minister for Brandenburg. Mr Schoenbohm commented that the trend in society to look away when a crime was being committed, to walk the other way, not get involved and take no interest in the plight of others, was solely caused by the policies of the former SED - the ruling party of East Germany - which had encourage a society of people with no interest in anyone but themselves. Normally such comments might have blown over and been accepted by the majority, as few hold abidingly good memories of the former government of the Democratic Republic. However, his comments were made following the discovery of the bodies of nine murdered babies; all killed by their mother - so it appears - immediately following their birth. To blame the murders of these innocents on the policies of any government in Europe would, I suspect, make everyone choke on their breakfast.
Mr Schoenbohn, who is also not up for re-election, is taking matters in his stride. With a partial apology for his comments - which were naturally taken out of context - he rubbed salt into the wounds by claiming that the only people demanding his resignation were unknowns seeking to get their names into the newspapers - The Mayor of Berlin should take note, as he, too, was one of these unknowns.
It is going to be an interesting few weeks until we get to the elections, always supposing that the Constitutional Court of Germany allows them to go through. The elections were called by using a vote of no confidence to show that the government was not supported in parliament. In order to gain this level of unpopularity, Chancellor Schroeder had to order his own party members not to vote; a move necessary as the SPD has a majority in parliament when combined with Bundnis 90 / Die Gruenen. A series of complaints have already been lodged with the court over this form of dissolving parliament and forcing an election, and a decision is likely by the end of August.
I shall be watching the way things develop with pleasure over these coming weeks, and perhaps a few things will catch my eye which I feel worth commenting on here.