Gerhard Schröder, the charismatic, combative, larger-than-life chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005, frequently visits the Middle East as honorary chairman of NUMOV, a Berlin organization that seeks to boost trade between the region and Germany.
It is one of the roles played by Mr. Schröder, a Social Democrat who led a coalition with the Greens before losing to Ms. Merkel in a close reelection bid. One of Mr. Schröder’s legacies is his “Agenda 2010” reform, which loosened restrictions in Germany’s labor market and slashed welfare benefits for thousands. The cuts, which potentially cost him reelection, are widely credited with putting Germany on course for sustained economic growth. Mr. Schröder also kept Germany out of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
After his election defeat, Mr. Schröder retreated from public life, becoming supervisory board chairman of Switzerland-based Nord Stream, a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom and German investors to deliver natural gas from Siberia to Germany. Mr. Schröder has appeared regularly with Russian President Vladimir Putin and a few years ago adopted a Russian child.
His relationship with Ms. Merkel has been testy, especially in the wake of his narrow defeat a decade ago. However last year, Ms. Merkel made a rare public appearance with Mr. Schröder to help him promote a book about his legacy.
Handelsblatt: Mr. Schröder, you spent three days in Iran this week, meeting the president and six of his ministers and you were accompanied by a big business delegation. What was your impression about the situation in the Middle East?
Gerhard Schröder: I had a very interesting discussion with President Rouhani of Iran. One thing he made clear was that he has no interest in further escalation of tensions with Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, he is actively looking for ways to improve diplomatic relations. That is a hugely important signal in these troubled times. President Rouhani also called the refugee problem in the Middle East the major challenge for all states, and warned that the catastrophic situation in refugee camps has to improve. Europe and Iran would have to work more closely together so that fewer refugees embark on the dangerous route to Europe.