Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Revolving Tür

Another item from the last week that caught my attention was the announcement that the recently-former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had accepted a management position with a subsidiary of the Russian state natural gas company, Gazprom. Russia is one of Germany's largest energy suppliers, so to put this in perspective for a US audience, it would be tantamount to George W. Bush accepting a position with Saudi Aramco in February 2009. Can you imagine the political fallout that would create?

To spice things up a bit more, only a few months ago Herr Schroeder was instrumental in pushing through a new gas pipeline route from Russia to Germany that will traverse the Baltic Sea and bypass Poland and the former Baltic republics of the USSR, vexing them all. In his new capacity, Herr Schroeder will apparently supervise the division of Gazprom responsible for building this pipeline. Rumors to this effect were vigorously denied when they surfaced back in October. In the US, this kind of revolving-door hiring of someone directly involved in a controversial contract would generate all kinds of investigations and Congressional outcry. The German reaction so far seems focused on creating a code of conduct for ex-officials.

Absent the appearance of impropriety, Schroeder's appointment might have been seen as a clever move from both the German and Russian perspectives. It provides Gazprom with a bit of international leadership credibility in advance of a partial privatization--if that ever really materializes--and it helps cement a very important trade relationship for Germany. But can an event like this really be viewed in such a narrow context, particularly given the lingering frictions between Germany and France, and the new EU members that were Soviet satellites as recently as 1990? Surely this presents the new German coalition government with an unwelcome intra-EU political challenge, as well as a distraction from their efforts to institute meaningful economic reforms.

However the situation turns out, including the possibility that he may yield to critics and withdraw from this new post, you have to hand it to Gerhard Schroeder. He didn't hesitate to oppose the US over Iraq for personal political gain--aiding his reelection but alienating his country's most important ally in the process--and he isn't shy about seeking personal gain out of office in a move laden with conflicts of interest.

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