BERLIN: Gerhard Schroeder’s publicly funded office is to be closed and its remaining staff reallocated amid mounting dismay at the former German chancellor’s refusal to distance himself from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is custom for all Germany’s leaders to get a state-funded office when they leave government, but the three parties that make up current Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition have agreed a parliamentary motion to close Schroeder’s.

They have taken the decision after his refusal to condemn Putin, whom he still calls a close personal friend despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said it was unthinkable that “a former chancellor who is now openly doing lobby work for the criminal rule of Vladimir Putin is still given an office by taxpayers,” in an interview with Welt TV.

German media has reported that Schroeder, 78, earns sums from jobs at Russian state-owned energy companies that dwarf the 400,000 euros the German state spends on the office.

“The budgetary committee observes that former Chancellor Schroeder no longer carries out any duties that result from his former office,” the parties’ joint motion read.

“The office will therefore be closed.” Schroeder’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The move does not affect the 7,000-euro per month pension the ex-chancellor draws.

Schroeder, a Social Democrat like Scholz, is the living figure most closely associated with Germany’s “change through trade” policy, a doctrine that held close economic ties were the best way to tame and integrate Europe’s giant eastern neighbour.

But critics say the war in Ukraine is a spectacular illustration of that policy’s failure and blame Schroeder, who as chancellor sponsored the building of more gas pipelines, for deepening Germany’s energy dependence on a neighbour that has now turned hostile.

Schroeder has always said that his ties to Putin are an essential channel of communication to a man the world cannot afford to ignore. A trip to Moscow to plead with Putin to end the war yielded no obvious results, however.

Dissatisfaction at Schroeder’s stance has affected his own closest colleagues: the four staff in his bureau all asked for new assignments within days of the war starting.

Any remaining staff will now be charged with winding the office down, and its files will be preserved for the state archives, according to the motion.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2022

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