Chancellor trial: Former Chancellor Schröder loses another lawsuit over his office

Chancellor trial: Former Chancellor Schröder loses another lawsuit over his office

Former Chancellor Schröder refuses to accept that his office in the Bundestag has been taken away from him. He makes a surprise appearance in person at the second trial. But the result is not to his liking.

The court’s deliberations on the lawsuit brought by Gerhard Schröder (SPD) lasted less than two hours before the verdict was reached: the former chancellor has no legal claim to his former office in the Bundestag. His lawsuit was dismissed, and the former chancellor also lost in the second instance in court.

The court found that the state has paid former chancellors for their offices and staff to carry out public duties after their term of office, as part of decades-long practice. But just because this practice exists does not mean that there is a legal entitlement. Critical questions and comments from the presiding judge at the Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court had already given us an inkling of the decision. It is not yet legally binding.

Schröder unexpectedly appeared in court ten minutes before the hearing began. He stood in the large hall of the Higher Administrative Court near Zoo Station in a black suit that morning, accompanied by his wife Soyeon Schröder-Kim in deep blue. Schröder briefly stumbled over the edge of a carpet, then the presiding judge Boris Wolnicki greeted him in a very friendly manner: “It’s nice that you’ve come yourself, we’re honored. I can say that much without calling my neutrality into question.” Schröder, who was sitting between his two lawyers, replied that it was “pleasant to be here.”

Schröder: Attempts to mediate with Russia hardly possible without an office

After lengthy statements by his lawyers and those of the opposing side, the Federal Chancellery, Schröder (80) then spoke up with several examples and reasons. Most recently, he had seven offices and five employees in a building belonging to the Bundestag. He considered this a “generous arrangement, but an appropriate one.” His attempt to mediate in the war with Russia at the request of Ukraine involved extensive travel and discussions, said Schröder. He could hardly organize something like that privately. His wife took the minutes of the discussions because he had no employees. “I just want to make it clear here that such discussions only arise because of my previous office.”

In addition, there are always requests from citizens, which usually follow the same pattern: “Everyone is against me, only you can help me now.” Of course, the assumption is that he will then take action without pay. “It is very time-consuming and actually not possible,” said Schröder. “These are also tasks that one can only do because one previously held this office.” At the moment he has to do such work privately.

In May 2022, the Bundestag’s budget committee decided to close Schröder’s office in the Bundestag. The reason given was that the former chancellor was not fulfilling any obligations related to his previous activities. A new regulation made this a prerequisite in spring 2022. Schröder had previously been sharply criticized for his connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been waging a war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine for more than two years. This was not explicitly mentioned as a reason for the new regulation. However, there was talk of consequences “in view of the Russian attack.” Schröder was chancellor from 1998 to 2005.

No claim despite tradition

Schröder went to court, but lost in the first instance before the administrative court in May 2023. Judge Wolnicki also made it clear in the hearing in the Higher Administrative Court that he viewed the case critically. Everything revolved around the question of legal entitlement because there was no law on the matter. There were certainly reasons for paying for an office, it might even make sense and be traditional. “That is undisputed, but the point here is: the plaintiff must have a right.”

Schröder’s lawyers had primarily referred to customary law, because for decades all chancellors have “naturally” been paid for these offices plus several employees. In addition, there is the principle of equal treatment, because Schröder should not be treated worse than, for example, his successor Angela Merkel (CDU). A lawyer from the Federal Chancellery replied: “It is a friendly, voluntary gesture from the state. It is an appreciation for what has been done. But this does not give rise to any entitlement.”

The court followed this argument. Ultimately, it is in the power of the budget legislator, i.e. the Bundestag, which determines the state’s expenditure, to decide. Judge Wolniock said that perhaps the Bundestag had deliberately not regulated the pensions of former chancellors with a law so that it could be renegotiated politically again and again, “also depending on the person of the previous office holder”.

Because of the fundamental importance of the case, an appeal to the Federal Administrative Court was allowed. It remains to be seen whether Schröder will use this opportunity. After the oral hearing, he left the courtroom hand in hand with his wife. Neither he nor his lawyers were present when the verdict was announced two hours later.

Source: Stern

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