Merkel rules out troops forIraq, loses ground in poll

15th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

15 July 2005, BERLIN - German opposition leader Angela Merkel ruled out Friday sending troops to Iraq, should she win Germany's early election likely to be held in mid-September.

15 July 2005

BERLIN - German opposition leader Angela Merkel ruled out Friday sending troops to Iraq, should she win Germany's early election likely to be held in mid-September.

In an interview with the Hanover daily Neue Presse, the Christian Democrat (CDU) leader said German voters could rely on her to stick to that decision.

On Friday Merkel was visiting German troops stationed in Kosovo.

In the interview, she stressed that a CDU-led government would also seek to "to place the relationship between Europe and the U.S. on a reasonable basis".

Washington's ties with Europe came under enormous strain in the build-up to the Iraq war as a result of the opposition spearheaded by France and Germany to the U.S. military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

Merkel went on to tell the newspaper that she did not have any plans to travel to the U.S. or Russia before the possible September election.

She added: "However, very shortly after an election victory I will fly both to Washington and to Moscow."

Political analysts say it is unusual for a German opposition leader not to visit Washington in the run up to national German elections.

Merkel's decision against flying to Washington is seen as a mark of the Bush White House's unpopularity in Germany.

Instead, she is planning to fly to Paris, which joined Berlin and Moscow in opposing the U.S. war in Iraq.

However, her comments on Iraq came as a new opinion poll showed the CDU and its Bavarian-based associate party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), losing ground as a result of the inclusion in its election programme of a controversial plan to hike VAT next January should they win the September poll.

Drawn up by pollsters Infratest Dimap for German television ARD, the poll showed Merkel's CDU-CSU bloc falling one percentage point from last week to 42 per cent.

Moreover, a recent string of polls also showed support for the CDU-CSU shrinking. At the start of June, the Merkel-led opposition managed to garner 48 per cent support from those polled by Infratest Dimap.

While the Infratest poll still gave the conservative-led opposition a commanding lead over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's ruling Social Democrats (SPD), it showed that 66 per cent of those responding to the survey were against her planned VAT increase.

Under Merkel's plan, revenue generated by the VAT hike would be used to offset Germany's high non-wage labour costs, which economists say is an obstacle to job creation in the country.

But only 30 per cent of those polled endorsed the move and only 31 per cent believed that a Merkel-led government would be able to cut Germany's record high unemployment.

The Infratest poll also again underscored the threat posed to the major political parties by the current strength of Germany's new hard-left party.

The new left alliance compromising the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism and the so-called Election Alternative for Labour and Social Justice managed to hold on to 11 per cent.

This raises the prospect that even if the CDU-CSU emerged as the biggest bloc following the election it may not have enough support to form a parliamentary majority.

In Germany's former communist east, the new left alliance is now the strongest political force, the poll showed, with voter support standing at 31 per cent followed by the CDU with 29 per cent.

As a result even if she secured the backing of the small liberal Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel might be forced into a so-called grand coalition government with the SPD, which is something the Infratest Dimap poll showed was supported by 43 per cent of voters.

Only 29 per cent said they would like to see a coalition comprising the CDU-CSU and FDP. The FDP gained one point to 8 per cent.

But so far the SPD does not appear to have benefited from voter unease about Merkel's election manifesto with the party remaining stuck at 27 per cent. The SPD's junior coalition partner, the Greens, gained 1 point to 9 per cent in the poll.

The poll did provide the SPD with some good news as it showed Schroeder retaining his lead over Merkel as voters' preferred candidate for Chancellor. But, that said, voters in German elections cast their ballot for political parties.

Copyright DPA with Expatica

Subject: German news

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