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24th Aug 2019

Ex-chancellor Schroeder criticises Bush's religious 'absolutism'

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has blamed US president George W. Bush's strong religious beliefs for why the two countries eventually fell out over the Iraq war.

He wrote in his memoirs "Decisions: My Life in Politics," excerpts of which were published on Sunday in the weekly Der Spiegel, that while he had nothing against Mr Bush's Christian beliefs he feared that it was colouring the president's decisions.

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"What worried me, despite a relaxed atmosphere to our talks, and to a certain degree what made me sceptical was how much it came through that this president saw himself as 'God-fearing' and saw that as the highest authority."

"I can well understand if someone is devout and strives for a dialogue with God, in this case prayer. The problem that I have with that starts when the impression arises that political decisions are the result of a dialogue with God," says the book according to Reuters.

Relations between Berlin and Washington were very cordial when Mr Schroeder, a social democrat, first came to office in 1998 but went downhill when it became apparent Germany would not support US military action in Iraq.

The low point came when Mr Schroeder, while campaigning to get into office for a second time, called American plans to invade Iraq an "adventure", prompting fury in the White House.

His 544-page book, due to be published on Thursday, also refers to Mr Bush's absolutist beliefs where decisions were not open to debate because they were a result of prayer with God, and accuses the US government of hypocrisy for demanding secular reform in other countries but not at home.

"This absolutism I saw in the American president in 2002, not only in our private talks but also in his public comments, reinforced my political scepticism - even though I personally like America and its president," notes the book.

"We criticise rightly that in most Islamic states the role of religion for society and the character of the rule of law are not clearly separated. But we fail to recognise that in the US, Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies."

Putin and Merkel

Elsewhere, the book has strong praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying he has the "hardest office in the world" and that "to rule such a vast country, one has to be exceptionally able and disciplined..."

Mr Putin and Mr Schroeder got on famously well during his chancellorship, leading German conservative opposition politicians and NGOs at the time to strongly criticise the German leader for not publicly bringing up human rights issues with the Russian president.

More criticism followed when Mr Schroeder took a lucrative job with the German-Russian consortium behind the proposed Russia-Germany Baltic Sea gas pipeline - a deal which the chancellor had helped negotiate himself while still in office.

On the domestic front, Mr Schroeder's book takes a political swipe at the current government headed by conservative chancellor Angela Merkel, saying it lacks leadership.

It also suggests that Bavarian president Edmund Stoiber is a "timid" person and not the "Bavarian lion" that he is made out to be, noting that he did not accept to become president of the European Commission after Mr Schroeder offered him the job, following the agreement of French president Jacques Chirac.

Orban praises von der Leyen after first face-to-face

The EU Commission president-elect said she had a "good talk" with Hungary's controversial premier. Orban returned the praise, saying said the former German defence minister "thinks with [a] central Europeans' head".

Von der Leyen aims to 'rebalance Europe'

The German EU Commission president-elect hopes to bridge divisions within the EU, as she meets with EU leaders setting up her team of commissioners.

Johnson's call for new Brexit deal hits EU 'no'

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Selmayr shifted to Vienna, ahead of von der Leyen arrival

London and Washington had been rumoured, but instead the German political mastermind behind the EU commission will now work as a quasi-EU ambassador in Vienna. He irked many in Brussels but also shook things up.

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