Gerhard SchröderGerman political leader
Birthplace: Mossenberg, Lower Saxony, Germany
Schröder became Chancellor of Germany, succeeding Helmut Kohl's 16-year rule, in the September 1998 elections in which the Social Democratic Party prevailed over the Christian Democratic Union. Drawing comparisons to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the U.S. President Bill Clinton for his staunchly centrist views, Schröder has been accused of having no principles of his own but merely changing his mind or his policies to reflect prevailing opinion. During his tenure as premier of Lower Saxony (equivalent to state governor), Schröder sat on the board of state-owned Volkswagen, where he learned the impact of Germany's social welfare programs on corporate earnings. German social programs are among the most progressive—and expensive—in Europe, but unemployment is also quite high, particularly in the former East Germany as employers seek cheaper labor markets abroad. The introduction of a common European currency will also pose challenges for Schröder, who will need to balance his country's demands for jobs and social welfare with its need to meet strict economic targets for budget deficits and spending limits.