Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Wednesday that he will "definitely" not take part in Germany's next Cabinet, signaling an end to his seven years in government with a good-humored speech in which he took swipes at Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
"I will not belong to the next government, definitely not," Schroeder told a trade union conference to loud applause in his hometown of Hanover.
In a lighthearted speech, Schroeder urged the new government headed by conservative Angela Merkel to push through economic reforms, but not at the expense of social protections. He seemed upbeat and visibly relieved to have the weekslong struggle over the chancellery behind him.
Schroeder had battled with Merkel over control of the new government since Sept. 18 elections failed to give either his Social Democrats or her conservatives a clear majority.
The chancellor seemed to enjoy himself Wednesday, taking parting swipes at some of his rivals, including the British prime minister, with whom he has clashed over the future direction of the European Union.
"I say to my British friend that people in Germany, in Europe, don't want complete denationalization, they don't want the privatization of lifetime risks. They want a state that's not in front of their nose but at their side."
Schroeder also took a parting jab at the U.S. president over the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, which he depicted as an example of the necessity of a strong and effective state able to help people.
"I don't want to name any examples of catastrophes, where you can see what happens when there is no organized state. I could name countries, but the office I still hold forbids that _ but everybody knows I mean America," he said, drawing laughter and long applause.
Schroeder clashed with Bush by opposing the war in Iraq in 2002. Relations have since improved but remain businesslike rather than warm.
Tuesday evening, Schroeder hinted that he did not want to take part in Merkel's new government, after the Social Democrats extracted eight Cabinet posts for their party in exchange for her chancellorship. The remaining eight seats will go to members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and their sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union.
Schroeder has said he would take part in upcoming formal coalition talks "so that they turn out well," but has given no indication of what he will do in the future.
The chancellor, who travels to Turkey for talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later Wednesday, is to remain in office until his successor is sworn in.
Rescuers found the pilot of one of the two Su-34 fighters that had collided in midair in the Far East on January 18