German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has his back against the wall. Sometimes, that can bring out the best in a leader. For the sake of his country and Europe, he must make this one of those times.
Germany is Europe's biggest economy but one that's flagging. Costly unification, an extravagant social safety net, and inflexible unions have turned it into the continent's economic caboose instead of its locomotive.
Mr. Schröder recognizes this and was able to pass a set of limited, yet necessary, social and labor reforms last year. But the backlash for even these reforms has been severe. His approval rating is abysmal: 25 percent. His Social Democratic party is losing members. And last week, he made the unprecedented decision to give up his job as leader of his own party.
This has been widely interpreted as a sign of Schröder's weakness as head of a center-left coalition that hesitates to follow him. Meanwhile, the opposition conservative Christian Demo- crats urge new elections.
The fact is, with unemployment at 11 percent and an economy that shrank last year, Germany has no choice but to continue with reform. Nothing less than Thatcher-esque upheaval is required, no matter which party is in power.
Schröder's failing is not his policy, but his inability to sell it, and that's what he should focus on now. The moment requires a leader's appeal to the can-do spirit so ably expressed by the postwar Trümmerfrauen, the women who brick by brick removed the ruins of bombed-out cities to clear the way for rebuilding. Germans excel at hard work and sacrifice, and Schröder should tap into this.