Merkel’s Coalition Under Pressure in Germany
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany faced calls from opposition leaders on Monday for new elections, as bickering and fighting within her governing coalition has led to growing speculation in the German news media that a collapse of her government could be imminent.
Rocked by the resignations of a pair of high-ranking officials from her party and a significant setback in elections last month, Mrs. Merkel finds herself embroiled in possibly the worst political crisis since she became chancellor in 2005.
The decision to push through Germany’s share of a multibillion-dollar bailout for Greece and an even larger rescue package to defend the euro cost her dearly among parsimonious German voters, who are bitter at bailing out what they see as spendthrift neighbors.
Then last week the government proposed nearly $100 billion in belt-tightening measures by 2014, intended to slow the growth of the country’s debts. Coming on the heels of the bailout votes, the budget cuts led thousands of Germans to take to the streets in protest over the weekend, leaving more than a dozen police officers injured here in the capital.
The leading German newsweekly, Der Spiegel, called Mrs. Merkel’s teaming of conservative Christian Democrats and pro-business Free Democrats “a government in ruins,” adding that “no one would bet on a long duration for this government, not even Merkel’s faithful.”
At a news conference on Monday with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, in Berlin to discuss European economic policy, Mrs. Merkel was asked directly by a reporter whether the coalition had reached its end, less than a year after she won re-election. Mrs. Merkel smiled grimly and gave a curt shake of her head before responding that the government “knows its duty.”
But following the resignation of President Horst Köhler last month, the vote for a new president on June 30 is shaping up as a critical test for Mrs. Merkel, one that could decide whether she will hang on to power even through the summer. The presidency may be a largely ceremonial position, chosen by members of Parliament and state representatives, but the secret ballot is also an important test of party solidarity.
“Either we get our act together or it will be the end of the coalition soon,” Jörg-Uwe Hahn, the Free Democrats leader in the state of Hessen, told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sunday.
If Mrs. Merkel cannot keep her coalition’s majority together to secure victory for her candidate, Christian Wulff, the state premier in Lower Saxony, it will effectively serve as a no-confidence vote for the chancellor.
“New elections are now in the heads and hearts of everyone who thinks about political responsibility,” said Renate Künast, a chairwoman of the opposition Greens in Parliament, Monday in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The chairman of the rival left-wing Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, told the daily Stuttgarter Zeitung on Monday that the party could “immediately take over the government.” But Mr. Gabriel added that he did not believe the government would fall apart, expecting officials ultimately to cling to their posts when forced to decide.
So far that has not been the case. In addition to Mr. Köhler last month, Roland Koch, the state premier in Hessen, announced that he would resign. And there have been reports recently in the German news media that Mrs. Merkel’s defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was also considering stepping down after coming under strong criticism for proposing an end to military conscription.
Conservative party leaders urged calm and decorum, after sniping took a ridiculous turn in recent weeks with leaders calling each other “wild sows” and a “troop of cucumbers.”
“It cannot continue as it has in the last weeks,” Hermann Gröhe, general secretary of the Christian Democrats, told reporters in Berlin after a meeting of party leader.
A pair of recent polls showed that most German voters agreed, but perhaps not in the way Mr. Gröhe intended. A majority of those surveyed said they did not believe that the alliance of Mrs. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats would survive to the end of their term in the fall of 2013.
“It’s probably the worst of the conflagrations she’s been involved in,” said Jackson Janes, executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Janes said he expected Mr. Wulff, Mrs. Merkel’s candidate for president, to win, even if it took several ballots, and that he believed the government would continue in power.
“There’s no alternative at this point that I see, and I would say that Germans on the whole do not take lightly political divorces,” Mr. Janes said.
Delicious neoliberal tears sauce.