Friction mounts in Merkel's new coalition

2nd October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Leading members of the Free Democrats slammed Merkel for staking out policy positions ahead of negotiations on a roadmap for the four-year term, as clear differences emerged.

Berlin -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's new coalition partners accused her of riding roughshod over them in the run-up to talks on forming a government, in interviews published Thursday.

Leading members of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) slammed the conservative Merkel for staking out policy positions ahead of negotiations on a roadmap for the four-year term, as clear differences emerged.

"It is poor form to say what may not be discussed before the coalition talks have even begun," FDP deputy leader Cornelia Pieper told the daily Bild.

"Apparently the Union is quite nervous. Many of them appear to be fixated on what jobs they may get," she said, referring to Merkel's conservative Christian Democrat (CDU/CSU) bloc, which turned in its worst score since 1949 in Sunday's general election.

FDP chief Guido Westerwelle, who is slated to become vice-chancellor and foreign minister, insisted his relationship with the CDU/CSU was "splendid" but said he would allow no one to dictate what would be on the negotiating table.

"The entire platform of the Union parties is negotiable and the entire platform of the FDP is negotiable," he told reporters. "Everything will be negotiated because we of course want this to be a very good, successful government for our country."

FDP general secretary Dirk Niebel questioned Merkel's declaration that the main pillars of a reform of the health-care system passed under the previous "grand coalition" government would not be touched.

He said the conservatives needed to remember that they had campaigned for the election seeking a coalition with the Free Democrats, arguing a centre-right government was best-suited to lift Germany out of its worst postwar slump.

"We are extending a hand to the Union to get out of this swamp," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.

Merkel aims to have a new government in place in time for celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9.

But she angered the Free Democrats, whose record 14.6-percent score in the election gave the alliance a majority in parliament, by drawing lines in the sand ahead of the start of coalition talks Monday.

Merkel, who said in her victory speech that she wanted to be the "chancellor for all Germans", is expected to resist any temptation to become a neo-liberal heroine in her second four-year term.

In addition to rejecting a rollback of major changes to the health care system, she has also ruled out FDP proposals such as axing sector-wide minimum wage agreements or making it easier for firms to lay off workers with less seniority.

The FDP has vowed to push through 35 billion euros (51 billion dollars) in tax cuts. But due to a growing hole in the public purse, Merkel's conservatives have promised smaller tax cuts of 15 billion euros.

The parties are also at odds over surveillance measures introduced in response to threats from Islamic extremists and the conscription of young men.

Meanwhile the head of Germany's powerful trade union federation warned Merkel of a powerful backlash if her coalition went too far with economic reforms.

DGB head Michael Sommer called the election manifesto of the FDP to slash taxes, reduce public spending and loosen worker protection laws a "declaration of war."

"If necessary, we are easily capable of mobilising resistance," Sommer told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

Deborah Cole/AFP/Expatica

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