Richard North, 04/12/2004  

Schröder is in for a difficult time as he heads to China tomorrow, not least to finalise a deal for five Airbus A380 airliners, worth 1.4 billion dollars (link here).

Lured by the prospect of such riches, he knows the price he must pay is to agree to the lifting of the EU arms embargo – something he has personally faovoured for some time.

But he does not go with the blessing of the Bundestag and Christa Nickels, head of the human rights commission of the German parliament, in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung daily, is saying that Schröder should not defy parliamentary opinion.

"If our chancellor announces something while he is abroad which goes against the vote of his own parliament he discredits the concept of separation of powers," she says, adding: "This would not really be the promotion of democracy."

Nickels concedes that China had made progress since the embargo was imposed in 1989, but the ruling coalition of Schröder's Social Democrats and the Greens had made "respect for human rights" a pre-condition of lifting the arms embargo. The Bundestag voted at the end of October in favour of the embargo being maintained and was followed by the European Parliament in mid-November.

Torn between showing "solidarity" with France, which has been the prime mover in seeking to lift the arms embargo, and his own parliament, this will be a difficult test for a man who is also under increasing pressure economically, as the euro continues to strengthen against the dollar and unemployment continues to increase. And, he decides to jump into bed with China, which way will Blair go?

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