When Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schröder snatched a narrow electoral victory in 2002, he garnered desperately needed votes by opposing George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq. Now, in the run-up to crucial elections in North Rhine-Westphalia later this month, his party has launched a new assault. This time the target is Anglo Saxon-style capitalism. Franz Müntefering, chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD), inveighed against "swarms of locusts that fall on companies, stripping them bare before moving on." The inspiration for this alarming imagery was identified last week when his headquarters leaked a "locust list" naming the alleged pests. These included U.S.-based investment firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone as well as several German funds, all of which have bought up and restructured German companies in the past two years.
In the past the SPD has tried to court the business vote by partially deregulating the labor market and cutting corporate income tax. Alienating the business community is a risky strategy, but analysts say Müntefering sees this as the surest way to galvanize his party's left wing, unhappy that business has not rewarded Schröder's reforms by creating jobs. But the rhetoric may not be having the intended effect. The SPD continues to lose support in North Rhine-Westphalia. "It's not a critique of capitalism, but of the foundation of our economy and society, and a few excesses," Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement told Time.