Coalition shows signs of strain at halfway point

24th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

24 September 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Relations within Germany's broad coalition have "hit rock bottom," according to a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

24 September 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Relations within Germany's broad coalition have "hit rock bottom," according to a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The admission by Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy head of the party's parliamentary caucus, followed weeks of tit-for-tat conducted between cabinet ministers through the media.

News magazine Der Spiegel reported Merkel had carpeted two senior ministers from her own party, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung, for their contentious comments on combating terrorism.

The chancellor is reported to have complained that she herself had become aware of their remarks only when she heard them on the radio.

Deputy Chancellor Franz Muentefering, the most senior minister from the Social Democrats (SPD), the junior partner in the coalition, said the two ministers had "crossed a red line."

"One can't simply go back to day-to-day business. There must be internal clarification," the deputy chancellor, who is also labour minister, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the SPD minister with the highest profile, lashed out - again through the weekend media - at Schaeuble and Jung for attempting to shift the constitutional balance.

Schaeuble's pet theme for some months has been to change the constitution to allow federal police to spy on the personal computers of terrorist suspects.

In a newspaper interview last weekend he highlighted the dangers of a nuclear terrorist attack, earning criticism from the SPD that he was seeking party political advantage through scare-mongering.

Schaeuble was later forced to backtrack slightly on his comments.

Last weekend, Jung provoked uproar by saying he reserved the right to order air force pilots to shoot down a hijacked airliner if it posed a threat to German security.

Jung's remark to a news magazine, coming after the September 4 break-up of a major terrorist bomb-making cell, revived an old debate and appeared to defy a constitutional court ruling handed down last year.

On Friday, Merkel called in Muentefering and SPD Chairman Kurt Beck - who is not a cabinet member - to discuss the growing crisis in the cabinet as the government passes the midway point in its four- year term.

A government spokesman said the chancellor was against anything that "sowed alarm among the population" but that the security situation had changed for the worse.

The chancellor was clearly trying to mend fences by reining in her hardline CDU ministers while trying to placate the civil liberties concerns in the SPD.

But the jockeying for electoral advantage has begun. Commentators are united in believing that the current arrangement combining the two main parties in an unwieldy coalition cannot last.

With the CDU, and above all Merkel herself, riding high in the polls, senior CDU members appear to have decided that, with two years to go to the next elections, the time has come to stake out positions clearly distinct from those of their coalition partner.


Subject: German news

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