DUSSELDORF, GERMANY — Outside the walls of K'98, Germany underwent historic political change that, in effect, handed power to the radical Green Party.
Inside the walls at Messe Dusseldorf, amid the familiar smell of hot plastic, new Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's plan to boost jobs drew skepticism from German industrialists.
``The general atmosphere right now is disappointment,'' said Helmut Eschwey, top executive of Battenfeld GmbH, which makes injection molding machines and extruders.
In September, German voters booted out Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democratic Party, after 16 years in power. Schroder's left-leaning Social Democratic Party, known as the Reds, won a plurality in the September election.
The election was no surprise. The shocker came during K'98, when Schroder announced that his Reds would form a coalition government with the Green party.
In Germany, the party that gets the most votes wins the right to negotiate with other parties to reach a majority in the parliament, the Bundestag.
Business leaders had hoped for a ``grand coalition'' of the Reds and the Christian Democrats — not the Greens. Now, Europe's biggest economy suddenly faces the unknown.
Schroder, the prime minister of Lower Saxony, ran on a platform of social justice and reducing Germany's stubborn 10 percent unemployment. Right after he won the election, the big union, IG Metall, called for a giant 6.5 percent pay increase.
Eschwey called the demand ``absolutely crazy. This is not realistic and this will not be the outcome,'' he said.
VDMA, the German Machinery and Plant Manufacturers Association, warned that a big rise in salaries would scotch plans to add 1,000 new plastics machinery jobs this year.
Schroder, who compares himself to Bill Clinton, has called for the government, unions and industry to create a plan to increase jobs.
Under one proposal, business would boost hiring while unions accept more part-time work and smaller pay raises.
Plastics leaders gave that plan a cool reception in Dusseldorf.
``No government in the world can produce jobs. The industry is creating jobs, and not the government,'' said Manfred Kersten, managing director at the HPM Hemscheidt GmbH machinery plant in Schwerin, Germany. His company is a good example. Kersten said parent company HPM Corp. has doubled the number of employees, to about 130, since it bought the Schwerin company in 1996.
Bernd Knorr heads VDMA's Plastics and Rubber Machinery Sector, which represents a $4 billion market employing more than 26,000 Germans.
While the Frankfurt trade association does not endorse political candidates, its leaders did try to promote manufacturing and economic reform.
``The negotiations between the Greens and the Reds have been finalized. And industry is very, very concerned about what has been decided,'' Knorr said.
Knorr doesn't have much faith in Schroder's plans.
``Some experts in economics are underlining that the result of the negotiations [to create the coalition government] are more or less a worst-case that could happen. What I personally feel is that the main goal of the new government — to reduce the number of unemployed people — this will not work. The contrary will be the case,'' he said.
VDMA thinks Schroder's approach could chase new investment from Germany.
``Higher wages, a higher load on industry, higher social costs directed to the companies — this cannot be the right tool to create new jobs. It is impossible,'' Knorr said.
When Kohl was in office, he also came under criticism from business, which said his modest reforms to Germany's high-cost social welfare did not go far enough.
But Kohl had a broader agenda: German reunification, a common European market.
Eschwey, of Battenfeld, said Germans had tired of Kohl and wanted a fresh face.
``Many people felt that Kohl should've stepped down earlier and let someone else represent the party,'' he said. But Eschwey said the Christian Democrats may have lost anyway.
As a fresh face, Schroder had the chance after the election to push through significant reforms, but he dropped the ball, Eschwey said.
``That all smells like being too small a step,'' he said.