Merkel confident over German grand coalition
The German chancellor says she believes it can continue to be effective.
Berlin (dpa) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed confidence Tuesday that her grand coalition could continue to implement its programme in the year ahead, despite the cloudy global economic outlook.
"I have the deep inner conviction that we can continue our work," Merkel said.
The chancellor was speaking to the media against the backdrop of hotly contested elections at state level, in which her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is fighting off a strong challenge from its junior coalition partner at federal level, the Social Democrats (SPD).
Merkel said she was convinced that 2008 would be a "key year" for the success of the coalition, which came to power following inconclusive elections in September 2005.
But she noted that the global economic climate was less favourable than when she took office.
Germany was better positioned than two years ago, Merkel said, pointing to a sharp fall in unemployment on the back of strong growth in 2006-07.
The overall national budget had achieved balance in 2007 for the first time since 1969, she said.
On the contentious issue of youth criminality and the disproportionate number of foreign youths involved, Merkel gave partial backing to the CDU premier of the state of Hesse, Roland Koch, who has come out for more severe punishment in his campaign for re-election.
There could be no taboos on election issues, and Koch was right to put the issue on the agenda, she said.
CDU leaders on Monday nevertheless rejected Koch's call for youth punishments to be applied to children under 14.
Merkel said there was a clear difference between the CDU and the SPD on the issue, demanding stiffer punishments for young offenders. The SPD has rejected any changes to the law on dealing with youthful criminals.
Koch's call for more severe treatment of youthful offenders, following several highly publicized incidents, has overshadowed the elections in both Hesse and Lower Saxony, which both take place on January 27.
The next federal elections must take place by September 2009. The CDU and SPD have begun to position themselves for the campaign, with neither party wanting to continue the unwieldy grand coalition - only the second of its kind in Germany's postwar history.