Analysis: Merkel mines the middle

4th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

At the recent CDU party congress, Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly moved her party to the political centre, hoping to shut out the SPD.

4 December 2007

Hanover, Germany dpa) - The loudest applause for Angela Merkel came when she lashed out at German managers for receiving "fantastical payouts" for substandard performance.

Rabble-rousing is not the chancellor's style but as party chairwoman, she knows how to tap the emotional vein in her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at an annual congress.

The contempt for those in high positions who abuse their privileges is as strong is it is for shirkers who live off the state.

Merkel was no less scathing when launching into an attack on the Social Democrats (SPD), the CDU's traditional rival but now grand coalition partner.

The CDU found the SPD decision to reinstate "socialism" in its programme, taken at its own recent party congress, incomprehensible, she said, referring to the first 35 years of her own life under a socialist regime in East Germany.

"We are the centre, and only we are the centre," was the key theme of a wide-ranging speech devoted to repeating core CDU values and policies to a loyal audience of 1,000 party delegates in Hanover.

Taking over from the SPD?

One media commentator accused the chancellor of distancing herself from the SPD verbally, while implementing policies traditionally associated with an SPD agenda.

"Nothing new, nothing moving, nothing convincing but the delegates still applauded as though Angela Merkel had said something decisive," was the comment from the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

The criticism from the left-of-centre daily was as predictable as the chancellor's speech.

Merkel had no intention of saying anything earthshaking.

She laid claim to responsibility for Germany's economic upswing and a decline by 1 million in the number of jobless over the past two years under her chancellorship.

But she warned: "We cannot rest on our laurels." Germany was still living beyond its means and placing a burden on future generations.

No membership for Turkey

Merkel and other CDU speakers stressed conservative Christian values.

Turkey is not to be offered full European Union membership, but rather a privileged partnership.

Additional childcare places to encourage mothers to return to the workplace are to be matched by increased funding for those who choose to stay at home to bring up their children.

The CDU is also moving slowly in favour of a minimum wage, implementing measures sector by sector. The new party programme states its opposition to "immoral" wages.

Merkel defended her "values-based" foreign policy that has irked both China and Russia to the consternation of German business.

"Human rights and representing German economic interests are two sides of the same coin and will continue to be so," is the CDU line.

Nothing new

The congress approved a motion calling for German companies to be protected from predatory state-owned investment funds.

It struggled to pass another that provides for a slight easing in Germany's highly restrictive laws on stem cell research, with a majority of just 22 in favour after Merkel intervened personally.

None of this is new, nor was it intended to be.

Support for Merkel's bloc, comprising the CDU and its Bavarian sister the CSU, is solid at around 40 per cent according to recent polls. SPD support has sunk as low as 26 per cent.

And Merkel is even more popular than her party, with a recent poll showing that 52 per cent of the electorate prefer her to any likely SPD candidate on 35 per cent.

Her aim is to garner centrist voters scared off by the SPD's leftward shift at its congress in Hamburg at the end of October.

A couple of percentage points would be sufficient for her to ditch her unloved current partner and form a workable ruling coalition with the liberal FDP after elections set for September 2009.

Before that, the chancellor faces state elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony in January and in the city-state of Hamburg in February.


Subject: German news, politics, Merkel, CDU

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