Coalition rift widens over stem cell research

15th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

15 June 2005, BERLIN - Rifts in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's fragile centre-left coalition widened on Wednesday when Greens party leaders rejected his call for a relaxation of legislation governing stem cell research.

15 June 2005

BERLIN - Rifts in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's fragile centre-left coalition widened on Wednesday when Greens party leaders rejected his call for a relaxation of legislation governing stem cell research.

"This is another nail in the coffin," said Greens official Christa Nickels, who hinted that the chancellor is attempting to force a split in his bid to call an early election in September.

Schroeder's Social-Democrat-led government enacted the restrictive rules just three years ago at the insistence of the Greens, over objections from business and scientists.

The current law is also backed by opposition Christian Democrats, many of whose supporters are pro-life conservatives. The Christian Democrats control the upper house of the German parliament, ensuring that any easing of the restrictions would be doomed.

The current law bans the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos within Germany as well as their import unless these stem from cultures predating the 2002 legislation.

"There is no support for the chancellor's sudden new change of heart in parliament, nor even within his own SPD," Nickels said in a published interview.

Greens co-chairwoman Claudia Roth also lashed out against Schroeder's proposal, as did Greens parliamentary whip Katrin Goering-Eckardt.

"The chancellor can say anything he wants, but there will be no sudden change of policy on bio-ethics as long as the Greens have anything to say on the subject," Goering-Eckardt said.

In remarks delivered during a public appearance on Tuesday, Schroeder said the three-year-old law was unfeasible in the long term.

"I am convinced that, in the face of new findings, we will not be able to avoid a liberalisation of stem-cell research," Schroeder said without further elaboration.

It was the latest about-face on cherished SPD-Greens policy matters by the embattled chancellor, who is fighting an uphill bid to rally support for his faltering coalition.

Earlier this week Schroeder reversed a long-standing feud with trade unions to call for wage hikes for union workers. He also announced a crackdown targeting hedge funds in Germany.

Schroeder has made his policy reversals as his re-election bid has been hit by dual problems.

On the one hand, his opposition conservative challenger, Angela Merkel, enjoys much stronger than expected support and is siphoning off crucial centrist votes.

But on the other hand, a newly founded leftist group of the post- East German communists and a western German protest group with renegade former leader of Schroeder's SPD, Oskar Lafontaine, could steal votes needed on the left.

Schroeder, who last month called for early national elections, badly trails Merkel in opinion polls with voting expected to take place 18 September.

Schroeder's SPD-Greens government is currently at 37 percent, compared with 51 percent for Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) and its Free Democratic (FDP) ally, according to a ZDF TV poll.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a German government official said it was recognised that Schroeder had few chances of winning a third term.

"Four pillars of the SPD re-election bid have collapsed," said the official.

"Schroeder has lost the media support he enjoyed; he has lost the left-wingers in his own party; he has failed to deliver jobs; and with rejection of the European Union constitution by French and Dutch voters a key part of his foreign policy has been discredited," the official said.

DPA

Subject: German news

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