News Digest Jobs and Justice

By David Hudson In the first state election since the CDU scandal broke, voters in Schleswig-Holstein slap the conservatives' wrists and reelect the governing "red-green" coalition. But was it really about Kohlgate?

First, the numbers. On Sunday, voters in Germany's northernmost state bordering Denmark, gave the Social Democrats (SPD) 43.1 percent, an increase of 3.3 percent over the last state elections in 1996. The Christian Democrats (CDU) fell 2 percent to 35.2 percent, the Greens fell 1.9 percent to 6.2, the Liberals, or Free Democrats (FDP), are up 1.9 percent to 7.6 and the Südschleswigscher Wählerband (SSW), representing the Danish minority, gained 1.6 percent for a score of 4.1 percent. The miscellaneous category of other parties dropped 2.8 percent to 3.8. Click here for charts mapping percentage totals, gains and losses and seat distribution in the state parliament.

As for what those numbers mean, it depends on who you choose to listen to. Glancing at the German papers and television news, you might get the impression that this wasn't a local election at all. Instead, it was supposedly a verdict on Volker Rühe's bid to become CDU party chairman following the resignation of Wolfgang Schäuble a few weeks ago. With the SPD leading so strongly in the polls since the months-long Kohlgate scandal began taking its severe toll on the double-digit lead the CDU was enjoying back in November, the press has been unable to resist looking ahead to the next horse race.

This one pits Rühe, the bulky and blunt former defense minister, a conservative some call "Rambo", against Angela Merkel, the relatively more progressive current CDU general secretary, a physicist from the eastern state of Thuringia. Merkel's supporters, such as CDU vice chairman Christian Wulff, argue that she represents a truly fresh start for the party as it seeks to distance itself from the era defined by former chancellor Helmut Kohl's system of secret accounts. Rühe's supporters, such as the leadership of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), argue that without a strong conservative at the top, the CDU will lose its right wing to extremist parties.

But according to exit polls, Kohlgate and the future of the CDU at the national level took a backseat to concerns over first, unemployment, and second, "social justice" - the very issue that cost the SPD so dearly late last year. In both cases, the voters in Schleswig-Holstein backed their "red-green" governing coalition led by Heidi Simonis (SPD), Germany's only female state premier.

As opposed to Simonis with her straight-up self-confidence and bright red hats, Rühe was never personally liked in Schleswig-Holstein, and he only made matters worse by promising to pull the state "out of the mud". Simonis countered by praising the beauty of the sea-faring state, and more importantly, by pointing out that economic growth is currently stronger in Schleswig-Holstein than in any other German state.

Throughout the campaign, Simonis interestingly never passed up the opportunity to sprinkle some of her personal popularity on Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "Finally, we have a chancellor who knows where north is," was a common refrain, and her first reaction to her victory was to cheer the halt of severe losses the SPD suffered in state and local elections all last autumn.

Despite the Greens' troubling tumble and the remarkable recovery of the FDP from the brink, she immediately waved off speculation of a SPD-FDP coalition, promising to carry on with the local mirror of the national governing coalition. She also threw her support behind the chancellor's controversial plan to issue "green cards" to foreign high tech specialists (see Friday's "Digest"). Joking about a warm weather front sweeping across Germany which meteorologists have named "Gerhard", she said it's brought a "fresh spring wind" to Schleswig-Holstein.

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Compare and contrast the varying interpretations of the election in Schleswig-Holstein in the US and British papers. According to John Hooper in the "Guardian", "Germany's conservatives last night emerged from their first trial by ballot since the start of their illegal-funding crisis in better shape  than they had any reason to hope." The results "gave a big boost" to Rühe in his race to head the CDU. Free registration required

But in the "New York Times", Roger Cohen writes that the CDU "crashed to a heavy defeat ." The party was "punished" by what "amounted to a stunning turnabout," and Rühe "could not reverse a slide." Free registration required

Another vote for "a heavy defeat" from John Schmid in the "International Herald Tribune". But Schmid chooses to focus on the CDU leadership debate, writing that the results will "increase a power struggle," and adds rather dramatically: "The Rühe-Merkel  rivalry has torn the party along generational, gender and ideological lines and even opened a rift between its membership in the affluent West and the once-Communist East."

Voters "issued a sharp rebuke" to the CDU, writes Haig Simonian in the "Financial Times", but according to the "FT" headline writers, the CDU merely "stumbles ." Free registration required

Roger Boyes is as colorful as ever in the "Times" of London, but level-headed as well. On the one hand, voters released their "bottled-up anger " at the CDU, but on the other, the result "was not so devastating as to destroy the chances of Volker Rühe of taking on the [party] chairmanship." The bottom line : "Germans do not like sleaze but neither are they keen on parties agonising about sleaze."

The "Washington Post" and the "Telegraph" choose similar strategies. Both run just-the-numbers  stories on Monday , having already set the stage on Sunday. The "Telegraph's" Tony Paterson snaps a quote from an angry housewife directed at Rühe: "You should first clean up your act  before running for office." But William Drozdiak has probably the best piece of this whole bunch in Sunday's "Post", addressing at length the question raised on the cover of this week's DER SPIEGEL: What does it mean to be conservative  in today's Germany?

Imre Karacs, in the "Independent", is the only reporter to come right out and say: "[Rühe's] assertions, that he knew nothing about the slush funds when he was general secretary and, later, defence minister, ring hollow ." Also: Robert Chalmers on Germany's number one reluctant celebrity  and Jane Jakeman on Sybille Bedford , an author who "has known literary and criminal Europe for the best part of a century."

Chancellor Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac are lobbying British Prime Minister Tony Blair hard and personally, reports Oliver Morgan in the "Observer". So, too, is US President Bill Clinton. At issue are the missiles  slated to outfit RAF Eurofighters. Will they be US- or European-made? Also: Jon Henley reports from the edge of Kohlgate. The scandal surrounding the Elf oil company, which may have helped fund Helmut Kohl's reelection in 1994, has forced former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas  to resign from France's Constitutional Council. Free registration required

Allan Hall in Saturday's "Times" on an "erotic invasion". Only the Brits would dare to open a story in a major, widely respected paper quite like this: "Germany is out to conquer the world once more - not with Panzers but sex aids, porno books and exotic lingerie that you cannot find in Marks & Spencer. Beate Uhse International  is headed to Britain in an attempt to change forever the world of the sex shop." Also: Roger Boyes on a different sort of invasion. In search of new territory, wolves  are risking human contact on the outskirts of Berlin. And Carl Mortished reports that Germany's state-run postal service is teaming up with IBM and rebranding itself as Deutsche Post World Net .

"The German takeover of Rolls-Royce  cars is set to make the unthinkable a reality: the next model is likely to be made in Bavaria." Andrew Lorenz in the "Sunday Times" on BMW's plans. Also: Antony Beevor reviews David Fraser's Frederick the Great  .

CeBIT roars on (see last Wednesday's "Digest"). Attendance records have been broken halfway through the world's largest tech fair, despite - get this - a computer hitch on opening day that shut down public transportation. Anyway, Ayla Jean Yackley reports in "Wired News" on new hope for "m-commerce ", i.e., ecommerce gone mobile: smartcards enhanced with biometrics. And Steve Kettmann is justifiably furious that online journalists  have been shut out of several CeBIT events.

David Schiff recounts the fascinating history of "The Eternal Road ", premiering Monday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Composer Kurt Weill, Austrian novelist Franz Werfel and director Max Reinhardt, "brought together [in 1934] by the Polish-born American Zionist Meyer Weisgal to create a 'musical response to Hitler,' had radically different ideas about the work and about their own relation to Judaism." Free registration required

Kurt Weill : A Life in Pictures and Documents gets a brief once-over from David Kaufman in the "NYT Book Review". Also: "One of the master German stylists of the 20th century, Freud  wrote colloquially," writes Jonathan Lear of the importance of getting the translation right. For years, it wasn't, and: "The shape of the psychoanalytic profession was influenced by the choice of the words." And Jeanine Basinger reviews Arthur Lennig's biography of Erich von Stroheim , the actor, writer and director who "always knew how to master satire, and he certainly knew how to portray a legend. He had been doing it all his life." Free registration required

"When [Billy] Wilder cast fellow Austrian  Erich von Stroheim in 1943's 'Five Graves to Cairo,' he took a moment to commiserate with the one-time director, who had been reduced to appearing in other men's pictures. 'Your problem, I guess,' Wilder said, 'was that you were ten years ahead of your time.' 'Twenty,' snapped Stroheim." Louis Bayard reviews Lennig's biography and Cameron Crowe's Conversations with Wilder in the "Washington Post". Wilder, by the way, will be awarded Germany's highest civilian honor, the Bundesverdienstkreuz, in Los Angeles on March 10.

The US and the EU are inching toward an agreement on consumer privacy rights, reports Eric Pfanner in the "International Herald Tribune". Also: John Schmid on Direkt Kauf , a company with two years and 12 million marks ($6.09 million) behind it: "The idea is to help small, single-product stores fight back against the incursion of giant retailers that offer broader ranges of goods."

David Gates reviews a handful of books on the Holocaust  for "Newsweek" and finds that they are all forced to take a stand, one way or another, on Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's 1996 bestseller, Hitler's Willing Executioners.

"The memoir written in an Israeli jail by Final Solution architect Adolf Eichmann  will be made public and turned over to lawyers for American professor Deborah Lipstadt, to use in defending her against a London libel suit by Holocaust revisionist David Irving," reports the "Jerusalem Post".

The 10 billion mark (over $5 billion) compensation  agreement reached late last year between the German government and several German companies on the one side, and lawyers representing Nazi-era forced and slave laborers on the other was a significant step (see the Digests for December 15 and 17), but as Karen Laun writes in the "Central Europe Review", finalization of the deal has taken longer than expected. Allocation of funds has proven to be the stickler issue.

How did the film market  section of the 50th Berlin Film Festival fare this year in its new digs at the rebuilt Potsdamer Platz? Sandy Mandelberger writes in "indieWIRE", "As one leading film seller quipped, 'now we have a beautiful new environment in which to do no business.'" Still, a few deals were done, including one for international sales of Tom "Run Lola Run" Tykwer's next film.

Genetic selection, European patents on life, US lawyers profiting on Nazi victims: summaries in English of selected articles in this week's issue of DER SPIEGEL.

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