Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder loses in court the right to have an office and staff paid with public money | International

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The figure of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder continues to lose its luster despite his attempts to defend his legacy after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The German justice system on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit filed by the 79-year-old politician against the decision of the Bundestag (German Parliament) to withdraw various privileges that he enjoyed as former head of government. Schröder does not have the right to keep the office and the workers that until last year paid for him from the public treasury, concludes the Berlin Administrative Court.

The former chancellor became a deeply uncomfortable character for the current head of government, Olaf Scholz, also a Social Democrat, when Russian leader Vladimir Putin decided to attack Ukraine. Both he and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier launched their fledgling political careers under its shadow, but Schröder's refusal to condemn the invasion and his refusal to step down from his posts at Russian public companies forced them to distance themselves from he. They did it in private and in public. A vote in the Bundestag in May last year decided to strip the former chancellor of office and staff, which cost around 400,000 euros a year.

Until its closure, Schröder's office consisted of five positions - although several employees had already resigned from working with him - and occupied seven rooms in a building belonging to the Parliament on Unter den Linden boulevard, opposite the Russian Embassy in Berlin. The pension and the security device were maintained. The former foreign minister still does not condemn the invasion and for months he maintained his very lucrative positions on the boards of directors of several Russian state companies, which came to bring him a million euros a year. His refusal to disassociate himself from the Kremlin, in fact, was the cherry on top of his almost two decades of undisguised work for his own benefit and that of a foreign country.

Birthday with Putin

Schröder became a well-known lobbyist for Russian interests from the moment he left the chancellorship after losing the election to conservative Angela Merkel in 2005. He hasn't cared about appearances for many years. In 2014, he celebrated his 70th birthday with Vladimir Putin at a St. Petersburg hotel, just weeks after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.

The Bundestag budget committee that withdrew his assignment made no mention of Schröder's connections to Russian companies or the president. The decision was part of a broader change in the privileges of former foreign ministers, who until then could maintain their public offices for years or decades, since they were for life. The three parties of the governing coalition (socialists, greens and liberals) included the condition that the former heads of the Executive continue assuming tasks related to their former position, such as giving speeches or working in some way for the image and prestige of their country.

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With Schröder, completely isolated politically, that premise was not fulfilled. And this has now been recognized by the Berlin court. A lawyer by profession, Schröder decided to appeal the Bundestag's decision in court, arguing, among other things, that he had not even been able to appear to present arguments.

The court's decision this Thursday has reactivated the debate on the privileges of former foreign ministers and the need to better regulate when they should be guaranteed and how generous that public allocation should be. He Sueddeutsche Zeitung He wonders, for example, whether Merkel "needs nine jobs, some of which are very well paid" while she is writing her memoirs with her former chief of staff, Beate Baumann, who still works with her in her office as former chancellor. "A fixed number of jobs and a budget and time limit are needed," the publication suggests.

The leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has tried to distance itself from Schröder to the point of wanting to throw him out. Because he is still affiliated, to the shame of many of his fellow militants. So far the attempts have not prospered. Last summer, the committee in charge of resolving his expulsion in Hannover, the former chancellor's city of residence, determined that he had not violated the formation's statutes.

Schröder was leader of the SPD between 1999 and 2004 and held the chancellorship between 1998 and 2005. In those years, at the head of the largest European economy, he forged important alliances with Putin, which materialized in the construction of the controversial Nord Stream gas pipeline. The pipeline carried Russian gas directly to the German shores via the Baltic seabed. Berlin and Moscow agreed to build the first pipeline (Nord Stream 1) in 2005, shortly before Schröder left the chancellery. The second, Nord Stream 2, already promoted by Angela Merkel, was completed, but it never came into operation because Scholz paralyzed it in response to the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The enormous dependency created by those links with Putin put the current German government in a bind, which had to look for alternatives to Russian gas in the midst of an energy crisis. When the war broke out in Ukraine, 55% of the gas supply depended on the Kremlin and Germany did not have a single regasification plant to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) by ship.

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