Germany’s governing parties have decided to strip former chancellor Gerhard Schröder of his parliamentary privileges, as anger grows over his refusal to distance himself from the Kremlin despite the war in Ukraine.
Schröder, a close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, is chair of the board of Russian oil giant Rosneft and has been closely involved in Nord Stream 1 and 2, the controversial gas pipelines that run under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.
A joint motion by the governing Social Democrats, Greens and liberal Free Democrats, which will be debated by the Bundestag’s budget committee on Thursday, seeks to strip him of his parliamentary office and staff.
The parties will call on the government to ensure that former chancellors are not automatically granted privileges but receive them only if they carry out tasks they say are compatible with their office.
“The budget committee determines that ex-chancellor Schröder no longer fulfils any obligations arising from his office,” the motion says. “For that reason, [his] office will be shut down.”
The motion does not mention Schröder’s attitude to Russia and Putin. Officials said privately that they wanted to avoid the impression the former chancellor was being punished for his controversial opinions.
“Gerhard Schröder is just a lobbyist for Russian state companies, and is no longer active on behalf of the German government,” said Sven-Christian Kindler, the Greens’ spokesman for budgetary policy. “The reason for granting the former chancellor offices and staff thus falls away.”
The 78-year-old Schröder — chancellor from 1998 to 2005 — was criticised over an interview with the New York Times in April in which he defended his close ties to Russia despite its invasion of Ukraine. He also said he did not think Putin was to blame for the alleged war crimes committed by Russian troops in places such as Bucha, the north-western suburb of Kyiv, saying only that “that has to be investigated”.
Following the comments, Saskia Esken, leader of the Social Democrats, called on Schröder to quit the party. She said he had for years been acting as a “businessman, and we should stop seeing him as an elder statesman”. “He earns his money by working for Russian state enterprises and the way he defends Vladimir Putin against the charge of war crimes is downright absurd,” Esken added.
Under the motion, although he will forfeit his office in the Bundestag, Schröder will be allowed to keep his boydguard and pension. A rival motion submitted by the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) had sought to strip Schröder of his pension.
Markus Söder, prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the CSU, described Schröder in April as a “wilful, bizarre, old man who cares more about his own bank account than Germany’s reputation in the world”. “That’s embarrassing, a disgrace for our country,” he went on.
Schröder took up a post as chair of the board of Nord Stream AG shortly after leaving office in 2005— a move that proved highly controversial at the time. Since then he has only deepened his involvement in the project.