U.S. Congressman slams Chirac and Schroeder

The speech by a leading U.S. Democrat containing sharp criticism of France and Germany has drawn a robust response from European politicians.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos chose the unveiling of the monument to the victims of Communism to criticise former French President Jacques Chirac and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

“I am so glad that the era of Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder in Germany is now gone. I had occasion to point out to my German friends what we did for them in two generations. We saved them from Hitler, we gave them the Marshall Plan. And when we asked Schroeder to stand with us, he told us where to go. I refer to him as a political prostitute, now that he is taking big checks from Putin, but the sex workers in my district objected so I will no longer use that phrase,” Tom Lantos stated.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has denounced Mr Lantos' comments, calling them an insult to the German people and an insult to the former Chancellor.

David Satter, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, says the criticism is due to Gerhard Schroeder’s close business ties with Russia.

“He referred in a general way to the fact that Chancellor Schroeder has become a member of the board of Gazprom. Presumably, he considers it inappropriate for the former head of state to be a member of the board of a government company of a different state,” David Satter explained.

Congressman Lantos, born in Hungary, is the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the U.S. Congress. Later in the week, at a Congressional hearing on the state of Transatlantic relations, Lantos criticised the outcome of the G8 Summit as a missed opportunity, and further criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Freedoms are being suppressed to an alarming extent in the former Soviet domain under Russian President Putin,” he said.

He went on to talk of what he called “Putin's pattern of abuse and repression of dissidents, independent journalists, and anyone who opposes him.”

Tom Lantos' remarks may have already provoked a sharp rebuff from Germany, and stunned some of the crowd at the dedication of the victims of communism memorial, but experts say that his latest tirade will not harm U.S. relations with either the transatlantic partners or Russia.

“Congressman Lantos is the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee but he is not part of the executive branch of government right now, which is responsible for policy. He exercises an oversight function, and as a result he is expressing his personal opinion, it is an opinion of somebody who has some influence on American foreign policy, but it is not the opinion of someone who makes foreign policy,” David Satter noted.

Congressman Tom Lantos, known for his fiery speeches and tough rhetoric, called on the Bush Administration and its European allies not to let Russia slip into a “repressive nightmare.” Most Capitol Hill insiders say Lantos will further continue to initiate more Congressional hearings to try and influence this policy during President Bush's remaining three years in office.