Richard North, 02/07/2005  

In the Alice in Wonderland world of European politics, we have just about got used to the idea that "no" votes in referendums actually mean "yes" but now, courtesy of Gerhard Schröder, we now find that losing a no-confidence vote actually means winning it.

This came yesterday the when the German chancellor scored a victory that can only be described as "bizarre", having put to the Bundestag a no-confidence vote that he wanted to lose, this being the only way his government could be dissolved early and a new election held.

Of the 601 members in the lower house, 296 voted against Schröder – that is for him – mostly from his own party (even the ones who detested him), while 151 of the opposition voted for him, and therefore against him.

There has, however, been some controversy about whether this vote is constitutional as, more normally, a chancellor who had lost the confidence of his own party would simply resign (as did Adenauer) and another member of the same party would take over.

In this case though, Schröder's ego is so huge that, if he goes down, he wants to take his party with him, hence his tactical ploy to dissolve the government and seek a new election. That way he remains as candidate for chancellor, a postion which he will surely lose.

On that basis, although by losing the confidence vote he has won it, since he has no chance at the election, winning also means losing. And they said Irish politics were complicated.

Yet it gets even more complicated. Because of the constitutional doubts, president Horst Koehler is studying the situation and will decide whether to accept the vote before dissolving parliament. He could decide not to do so, in which case Schröder's loss which became a win is in fact a loss, which it was going to be anyway, saving him the humiliation of losing the election as he will probably have to resign.

Anyhow, he can take comfort in the old adage of the gambler: "Some you win and some you lose" – although no one, least of all Schröder, can work out which is which these days.

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