Former Chancellor Schröder wanted his Berlin office back. For this he went to the Berlin Administrative Court – which rejected his complaint.
At 9:30 a.m., court president Erna Xalter opens an unusual procedure: in front of the Berlin administrative court, ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the Federal Republic face each other Germany. In room 0416, negotiations are taking place as to whether Schröder will continue to be entitled to a former chancellor’s office. The plenary hall is sober, but large enough for all process observers. The interest in the procedure with the file number VG 2 K 238/22 is immense. Because it is also about the fundamental question of what privileges former Chancellors are entitled to.
Schröder himself did not come to the hearing, he has traveled and is being represented in the legal dispute with the Federal Chancellery by his lawyers Ralph Heiermann and Michael Nagel. With the lawsuit, they want to ensure that the SPD politician, because of his status as a ex-chancellor like his predecessors “for life” has the right to an office.
Schröder’s office: seven rooms, four employees – for 407,000 euros
That the Budget Committee of the Bundestag Schroeder The 79-year-old – still a “brilliant lawyer” in the words of his lawyers – considers the office privilege a year ago to be illegal. Most recently, Schröder had seven rooms in a Bundestag building with four positions that were paid for from the state treasury.
Almost 407,000 euros flowed from the federal budget in 2021, the rooms provided the SPD parliamentary group. But then Schröder’s friend Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine. The social democrat came under massive criticism for his previously controversial proximity to Russia’s head of state and his lobbying work for Russian energy companies.
Against this background, the Budget Committee recognized Schroeder gave up the right to his office in May 2022 – but did not officially justify this with his unbroken closeness to Putin even after the beginning of the war. To justify it, it was said that Schröder did not accept any obligations from his previous office. Read the background: Schröder is fighting for his office – what drives the former chancellor?
Privileges for former chancellors have a long tradition
At the beginning of the hearing, Court President Xalter reports on the development, earlier chancellors provide offices and staff after leaving office. It all started in 1963 with Konrad Adenauer, whose office was still financed by the CDU. In 1966 Ludwig Erhard got a secretary from the Federal Chancellery and a personal assistant.
Over time it grew out tax money paid equipment, drivers and cars and other jobs were added. The driver became a chief driver, a second came to an office manager, and Schröder’s successor Angela Merkel (CDU) finally got nine jobs approved. It can therefore be stated: “For more than 50 years there has been a consistent and constant practice in providing former Federal Chancellors with offices for life,” concludes Xalter, looking back.
However, the judge makes it clear that there are many legal questions. What are the duties of a ex-chancellor? And how does it affect democracy when such privileges from a previous office develop in such a “non-transparent” manner, Xalter asks. If Schröder loses his office, that could also have consequences for Merkel and all future former chancellors.
Schröder the “little king”?
The fact that Schröder no longer performs the duties of an ex-chancellor is something his lawyer doesn’t want to let his client sit on anyway. There are numerous inquiries from citizens and the press, and Schröder is also still active, for example a few years ago he was involved in the release of the journalist Deniz Yücel in Turkey and recently at the funeral services for the deceased politicians Hans Modrow and Antje Vollmer participated, reports Heiermann.
Schröder doesn’t do that as a private person or out of “pleasure and boredom”. And as far as he knows, Angela Merkel is currently only primarily writing her memoirs, adds Heiermann. Opposing attorney Wolfram Hertel criticizes that Schröder’s representative wants a claim to “lifelong appanages” as for a “little king”.
Judge Xalter also addresses a – if not legally, but politically – sensitive point: “What about the Ukraine war?” She asks the lawyers of the Federal Chancellery then why the action against Schröder got rolling just after the beginning of the war. “You have to ask the budget committee,” Hertel simply answers. Schröder lawyer Heiermann criticizes that in a constitutional state one should not be punished for personal relationships.
No entitlement to employees
“High Noon,” says Xalter at 12 p.m., closing the hearing. The judges retire to deliberate. After almost three and a half hours, the court president re-enters room 0416. “The lawsuit is dismissed,” announces Xalter. She explains the reasons: On the one hand, the demand for the rooms in the Bundestag with a lawsuit against the Federal Republic of Germany is directed at the wrong address – after all, these were filed by the SPD parliamentary group.
Schröder cannot sue the employees either. Although the ex-chancellors have been given offices and equipment according to decades of tradition, they are not entitled to it. It’s a complete defeat for Gerhard Schröder. He can appeal. Lawyers for both sides did not comment immediately after the verdict was announced.
A fundamental sequel is possible anyway: “The trial has shown that the previous legal situation is extremely incomplete,” says a court spokesman. The legislature may now feel called upon to place the question of former chancellor offices on a new legal basis.
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