Merkel feels the heat six months before elections

9th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

With Europe's biggest economy suffering its worst recession in the postwar period, the latest voter survey shows Merkel's CDU/CSU conservatives dropping two points to 32 percent.

Berlin -- Sliding opinion poll ratings put German Chancellor Angela Merkel under pressure on Sunday, with senior conservative allies calling for clearer leadership six months before general elections.

With Europe's biggest economy suffering its worst recession in the postwar period, the latest voter survey this week showing Merkel's CDU/CSU conservatives dropping two points to 32 percent.

Their "grand coalition" partners at national level, the centre-left Social Democrats -- fronted in September's election by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier -- gained two to 27 percent, the ARD poll showed.

As a result, an election that until recently had looked set to be something of a shoo-in for the CDU/CSU in combination with the liberal Free Democrats -- up one point at 17 percent, in third place -- now looks less certain.

Leading members from the ranks of Merkel's conservatives made clear their frustrations on Sunday, with Wolfgang Bosbach, their deputy chairman in parliament, worried that their voters will stay at home on September 27.

"Maybe we have strategists who seriously believe that no great attention has to be paid to conservative voters and their concerns because they will vote CDU/CSU anyway," he told Focus magazine.

But there is a big danger, he said, "that this will not pay off because the party faithful will just stay at home or vote FDP," he said.

Guenther Oettinger, state premier of Baden-Wuerttemberg, one of Germany's wealthiest and most populous states, also made clear his concerns.

"It has to be clear that the chapter of the 'grand coalition' is over, and that a new one is being opened in which the CDU states clearly what it stands for," Oettinger told Der Spiegel magazine.

What is most hurting Merkel at the moment is her handling of the crisis at Opel, the German unit of General Motors, the once-mighty US auto giant now struggling to survive.

GM Europe executives came cap-in-hand to Berlin this month to ask for more than 3.3 billion euros (4.2 billion dollars) from European governments, most of which would come from Germany where Opel has its biggest operations.

The request has put Merkel, in power since 2005, in a tricky position.

Some 750,000 people in Europe's biggest economy work in the struggling auto sector, not just for carmakers like BMW or Volkswagen but also for parts makers such as Bosch or Continental as well as in many other related sectors.

With many of these companies reporting plunging sales, laying off workers, stopping production and warning on profits, Berlin is coming under pressure to help not just Opel but others too -- and not just automakers.

Deciding to help Opel would leave Merkel open to attacks that she has abandoned her free-market principles, potentially driving voters towards the FDP.

Conservative Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, for instance, said Friday that Opel should "seriously consider" resorting to protection offered by bankruptcy laws.

But on the other hand, spurning Opel, a German industrial icon dating back to the 19th century employing 26,000 workers would also see Merkel pay a political price -- one which the SPD would pounce on.

For now it is uncertain what will happen with Opel, with a spokesman for the government saying on Friday that no decision will be made for "several more weeks."

Fabien Novial/AFP/Expatica

0 Comments To This Article