Merkel eyes second term after EU vote success
Merkel's Christian Democrats and Bavarian sister party, the CSU, won 37.9 percent of the vote as the centre-left Social Democrats plunged to a record low of 20.8 percent, an effort widely described in the media as a "debacle."
Berlin -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday her chances of winning a second term in office in September had improved after her centre-right party trounced its Social Democrat rivals in European elections.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian sister party, the CSU, won 37.9 percent of the vote as the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) plunged to a record low of 20.8 percent, an effort widely described in the media as a "debacle."
A decidedly upbeat chancellor said: "This result gives us the courage, power and confidence to move decisively forward," adding her chances for the national election on September 27 had "grown clearly since yesterday."
Merkel told reporters: "The gap with the SPD has clearly, you could even say sensationally, risen to 17 percent."
Commentators said the outcome of the European election underlined that Germans are largely satisfied with Merkel's leadership as the country faces its worst recession since World War II.
"The lesson of the election is that Germans do not want to change horses in the middle of a crisis," the Tagesspiegel daily said in an editorial.
It also raised more question marks around the candidacy of Merkel's SPD challenger in September, Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Under the headline "Steinmeier's painful path to nowhere," the online service of Spiegel newsweekly said the candidate's drive to rescue major companies with state aid had done the SPD few favours at the polls.
It said Steinmeier would have to ask himself in particular how wise it was to push to save German carmaker Opel last month with billions of euros (dollars) in government aid as US parent company General Motors went bankrupt.
Merkel said the European election was not a "test vote" for the national poll but "it shows a trend and we will use this trend for our work in the next few weeks.
"All in all, it is a good starting point for the next 110 days," she added.
Bolstering her hopes that she can ditch the SPD after the election, Merkel's preferred coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), also scored well in the European poll with 11 percent of the vote, up from 6.1 percent in 2004.
The Green party, frequent allies of the SPD, garnered 12.1 percent of the vote and made strong gains in local elections held on the same day.
In contrast to some other EU countries, the far-right made little ground in Germany, taking just one percent of the vote. The far-left Linke party won 7.5 percent.
The European vote was widely seen as a bellwether for the national poll in September. Germany is currently governed by an uneasy "grand coalition" of CDU/CSU and SPD following an inconclusive election result in 2005.
FDP leader Guido Westerwelle said the result represented "a rejection of the grand coalition government and also a rejection of a left-wing majority.
"We are the only winners in this election. No other party got as good a result as the FDP," he said.
Meanwhile, SPD leaders sought to put a brave face on the party's European poll performance and vowed to press on with its policies despite the drubbing.
Acknowledging that the result was "disappointing," SPD chief Franz Muentefering told reporters: "What is clear is that we are sticking firmly to our political line."
The party was also standing firmly behind Steinmeier as its candidate for chancellor.
Steinmeier himself said that a greater turnout in national elections would work to his party's advantage.
"Around 42 percent of people voted. At the general election, it will be twice that and I will definitely be commenting on quite a different election result," he said.