“A little humility would have been better”

Germany. Election night 2005. Chancellor Schröder against the challenger Angela Merkel. German television. The heads of the major parties are present to discuss the results, including Schröder and Merkel.

The moderator addresses Schröder with Herr Bundeskanzler. Schröder grins and says with a touch of irony: “How nice it is for you to address me so.” The moderator is taken aback: “Have you already conceded defeat?” Schröder: “No, absolutely not.”

Gerhard Schröders behavior on that September 18, 2005 remains unique in German television history. It is 8:15 p.m. and Schröder’s SPD and Merkel’s CDU are neck and neck at 34% and 35% respectively. 

Schröder acts, though, as if he has won handily. siegessicher, siegestrunken – sure of victory, triumphant – were the terms later used by the German media. Schröder went on the attack against Merkel on live television: “There is a clear loser, and that very clearly is Merkel.”

Six years later Schröder looked back on that evening and explained to the German people in an article in the Welt am Sonntag what his motives were. His thinking was “there is now no room for diplomacy. This is the moment of truth.”

But it is not true, Schröder continued, that on that evening he thought the election results could swing in favor of his SPD. The Chancellor admitted that “a little humility would have been better.”

Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 14, 2011.