The September 1998 the Social Democrats, led by Gerhard Schroeder ( = Schröder) defeated the government of Helmut Kohl. The Social Democrats received 40.9% of the votes, supported by the Greens with 6.7%. The Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union coalition only received 35.1%, and its junior partner the Free Democratic Party (FDP) garnered 6.2%, and was therefore unable to continue to hold government (Walker 1998). Schroeder, a lawyer and former political activist, left behind much of the radicalism of his early Marxism (Wosnitza 1998) and even moderated some of the strong environment demands of the Greens in order to present the image of a winning party that would not rock the boat too much. A politician who had been the premier of Lower Saxony, leading a 'red-green' coalition there, and later a member of the board of Volkswagen, he was able to present an image of himself as 'business friendly' and pragmatic (Walker 1998; Wosnitza 1998). He is also a tough politician who managed to survive a public and potential damaging divorce to his third wife (Wosnitza 1998).
The election of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder brought a raft of new issues to the forefront both within Germany and within Europe as a whole. One of these has been the issue of the role of the Germany army in the new European setting. Thus a special commission, set up under Richard von Weizsacker (a former President), came to the conclusion that the current army is a relic of the Cold War and needed serious restructuring: -
Specific commission recommendations . . . include cutting manpower from 340,000; slashing conscripts from 130,000 to 30,000, an boosting the rapid reaction force from 50,000 to 140,000. The report also urged strengthening the armed forces' command structure, which is politically sensitive because it represents a step in the direction of a fully-fledged general staff that post-war Germany has rejected in the past as it reminds many of Nazi Germany. (United Press International 2000b)
In part the review was driven by NATO and U.S. criticism of the army's effectiveness, but there is no guarantee that German citizens would be happy with a more professional army (United Press International 2000b), even if this is compatible with the demands of any evolving European Defense Initiative. Germany has re-iterated its peace-keeping commitment in the Balkans, and has been a main provider of aid for the Balkan stabilisation plan that seeks to rebuilt the region and make it ready for deeper association with the European Union.
Another main issue of concern to nearby states was whether Chancellor Schroeder would continue strong support for EU expansion. Poland, in particular, had benefited from the strong backing of former Chancellor Kohl. In fact, the current government, in spite of some nervousness of declining electoral enthusiasm for enlargement before the 2002 elections (Oxford Analytica 2001), has also come to support carefully managed expansion (see further Wood 2002). In a June 2000 visit to the Baltic states, Schroeder promised aid to close down an old-style nuclear reactor in Lithuania, and also promised full support for the efforts of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to become member of the European Union.
However, it would be true to say the current government is more 'Europeanist' in orientation than the former leadership, with some lessening of support for NATO-led policies (Stratfor Update 1998), even though in the end Chancellor Schroeder