Helmut Kohl adds to Merkel's headaches

25th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

German elder statesman Helmut Kohl added Friday to Chancellor Angela Merkel's woes by contradicting her on nuclear power, just as she reels from criticism over Libya and the euro crisis.

Japan's nuclear emergency "is capable of changing the world. But it should not paralyse us, it shouldn't distort our view of reality," former chancellor Kohl, 80, wrote in a guest editorial for Germany's top-selling newspaper Bild.

"It has not immediately changed anything in Germany at all. The catastrophe in Japan has not made nuclear power in Germany any more dangerous that it was before," he said.

Merkel, Kohl's protegee until she famously helped end his political career with a notorious 1999 editorial of her own, has called Japan's problems with its Fukushima plant a "turning point" for the whole world.

Last week she suspended for three months an earlier decision to extend the lifetime of Germany's nuclear power plants and temporarily shut off the seven oldest reactors pending a safety review.

Despite nuclear power being deeply unpopular, her announcement has however backfired, with one survey showing 70 percent of voters thought it smacked of "electioneering" ahead of two state votes on Sunday.

Comments behind closed doors attributed to the economy minister in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily appeared to confirm such suspicions.

Rainer Bruederle's comments were reportedly made at a meeting of the BDI industry federation, and Werner Schnappauf, BDI director general, quit on Friday.

In Sunday's -- and 2011's -- most important vote, polls indicate Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) could lose power in Baden-Wuerttemberg after 58 years in charge of the wealthy state, with nuclear power a major issue for voters.

Merkel suffered a hammering by the Social Democrats (SPD) in Hamburg in February and ceded North Rhine-Westphalia in May, which meant the governing coalition lost control of the federal upper house.

The Baden-Wuerttemberg election could also see Merkel's national coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), fail to win enough votes to secure seats in the state parliament.

A similar fate might also befall them in Sunday's other election, in SPD-controlled Rhineland-Palatinate in western Germany, adding to pressure on FDP leader Guido Westerwelle, the deputy chancellor and foreign minister.

The main beneficiaries could be the ecologist Greens, who have won strong support from their opposition to nuclear power.

The Greens, together with the SPD, were co-authors of Germany's decision a decade ago to turn off the last of its reactors by around 2020. Merkel last year postponed this deadline until the mid-2030s.

Campaigners have called for anti-nuclear protests around the country for Saturday. In recent months tens of thousands of people have attended similar demos.

But this is not Merkel's only headache.

Germany's abstention in the UN Security Council over military action in Libya stunned Berlin's partners and prompted former foreign minister Joschka Fischer, a popular elder statesman, to brand German foreign policy a "farce."

Merkel's pledge at a European Union summit in Brussels of billions of euros (dollars) to a giant new euro rescue fund earned Merkel some unwelcome newspaper editorials on Friday.

"The old promise that 'we won't pay for the others' has been broken once again," Bild wrote, while the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called the history of the euro "a series of unkept promises."

The first fall in 10 months in the Ifo survey on Friday raised fears meanwhile that the booming German economy "may be starting to lose a little bit of steam," Jonathan Loynes from Capital Economics said.

© 2011 AFP

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