1 December 2003
LEIPZIG – The leader of German’s main opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) slammed Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday as incompetent, and called for unity with a Bavarian sister party so as to tip him from power.
“We have to stop this man from ruining everything in this country,” said Angela Merkel in a keynote speech to 1,000 CDU delegates in the eastern German city of Leipzig.
She said Schroeder had brought Germany into its worst economic and social-welfare crisis for half a century.
“Someone so incapable of reform is also incapable of governing,” she told the annual conference.
Merkel won a big round of applause when she explained why she was ejecting a right-wing deputy Martin Hohmann from the CDU for making a speech that dwelt on the “guilt” of Jews. He has already been ejected from the federal caucus and may face expulsion from the party too.
She said he had questioned fundamental CDU values and had failed to retract when asked to.
“Christian resistance to the Nazi regime of terror was among the main spiritual and political roots of the Christian Democratic Union,” she said, adding that the punishment of Hohmann was not the same as saying Germans could not feel patriotic.
Many commentators said the Hohmann speech about patriotism, on Germany’s national day, 3 October was subtly anti-Semitic.
In the eyes of the CDU, the Germans were in a continuous process of finding reconciliation with their own identity, she said. At the same time a permanent recognition would remain of what they could never reconcile themselves to: the Holocaust as a unique evil.
“This is the concept that we have built the Germany of today on,” she said.
Leading party figures said it was unlikely rank-and-file delegates would make a fuss about Hohmann’s expulsion, despite fury among his grassroots CDU supporters in his home state of Hesse.
Merkel called for an end to friction with the CSU, a Bavarian party. The CDU is only organized in Germany’s other 15 states. There have been squabbles recently with the CSU stressing its agenda for the common man while the CDU has moved towards neo-liberal reforms.
“The CDU needs a strong CSU, the CSU needs a strong CDU, and together we make a union of strength,” she said.
The two-day congress Monday was to debate and approve proposals for reforming Germany’s social welfare system. The plan was drafted by a former German president and high court judge, Roman Herzog.
A further point of discussion was to be a new taxation law proposal by the party’s financial affairs expert, caucus deputy leader Friedrich Merz, that would move Germany towards flat rates of income tax.
The Bavarian premier and CSU leader Edmund Stoiber is due to speak to the CDU congress on Tuesday.
As the congress got under way, some 6,000 police and armed forces personnel, many of them in uniform, staged a protest outside the conference hall to protest against payroll cutbacks in the forces.
Similar protests were held last month at a Social Democratic congress, with the police and armed forces angry that both main parties want to cut their numbers to reduce budget deficits.
Police union representatives said that in the past five years, 7,000 police jobs had been slashed, with a further 4,000 job reductions looming ahead.
“The public is getting fed up with the state of the roads, with vandalism, with molesting, with the lack of safety,” said Konrad Freiberg, leader of the GdP police union. “But when politicians feel unsafe, they just transfer police from other duties to protect them.”
Wolfgang Ostermeier, deputy chairman of the Armed Forces Association, complained that personnel serving in Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Horn of Africa faced a reduction in Christmas bonuses.
He added that reducing the armed forces to 250,000 personnel meant 20,000 families would have to move house and 100 bases would be closed.
Subject: German news