Twilight of the Chancellor?

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's resignation as chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) will deeply affect the distribution of forces within the German government and its slim "Red-Green" majority in Parliament. While it seems to be premature to speak, as some in Germany now do, of a "Twilight of the Chancellor" or to call Schröder's surprising step "the beginning of the end" of his tenure, it is perfectly correct to describe it as a dramatic loss of power.

The immediate winner is Franz Müntefering, age 64, the SPD's parliamentary floor leader who will succeed Schröder, as party chairman. Both politicians will constitute a tandem, but Schröder will be more dependent on Müntefering's loyalty than Müntefering is dependent on Schröder's success.

Schröder has been representing a moderately left political platform and agenda, one comparable to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's New Labour philosophy or former US President Bill Clinton's centrism. Müntefering, however, is more attached to traditional Social Democratic (or Old Labour) values. In terms of leadership style, Schröder is a soloist; Müntefering a team player.

In Germany, the Chancellor holds the strongest position among the key political players. However, the main source of any German Chancellor's strength is not to be found in the legal powers conferred upon him by the constitution; it is the actual support he holds within his own party.