Merkel rallies party ahead of crunch 2011

15th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel rallied her ruling conservatives on Monday, saying ahead of a make-or-break year for her second term that voters would soon come round to her policies.

"It is absolutely fine for decisions that we have taken this autumn to be contentious," Merkel, chancellor since 2005, told a conference of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"They will prove to have been necessary and at the end of the day they will convince people."

Germany's first female leader, and its first of either sex from the former communist east of the country, remains the unchallenged queen of the CDU after five years as chancellor and 10 as party head.

But after a second term that has rocky so far, whether "Mutti" ("Mummy"), as Merkel is nicknamed, remains secure depends on how the CDU fares in 2011's "super election year" when six of Germany's 16 states go to the polls.

Since forming a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) after elections in September 2009, the CDU's poll ratings have remained stubbornly weak, while those of the FDP have plummeted.

In May, the CDU got a taste of voter unhappiness when it lost power in the most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, costing the coalition its majority in the federal upper house.

In the wealthy southwestern state where the party is holding its congress, Baden-Wuerttemberg, the most important of the 2011 elections, the CDU could find itself turfed out of power for the first time since 1952.

The 56-year-old physicist is expected to be re-elected unopposed as party leader later on Monday but observers will be looking closely at her share of the vote for any sign of discontent. Last time she had almost 95 percent.

After winning a second term Merkel killed off an unhappy "grand coalition" with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), but her "dream coalition" with the FDP has seemed at times more like a nightmare.

Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble, finance minister, have fought hard to resist calls from the FDP -- and from abroad -- for tax cuts to boost the economy, preferring instead to reduce Germany's budget deficit by cutting spending.

The coalition partners have also fallen out over a range of issues like healthcare reform, social security and military service, allowing the opposition -- particularly the ecologist Greens -- to gather support.

The eurozone debt crisis earlier this year also dented Merkel's popularity, leaving her accused of sending German taxpayers' money to bail out "lazy" Greeks with what the Bild daily called "the fattest cheque in history."

Meanwhile there has been an exodus of top conservatives including president Horst Koehler over an interview gaffe. There is also speculation that Schaeuble, her right hand man, might resign for health reasons.

The government's decision to postpone when Germany abandons nuclear power has sparked mass protests, most recently over a radioactive waste shipment that needed a 20,000-strong police escort to reach its destination.

"In the 11th year as head of the CDU, Angela Merkel will have to reinvent herself for a third time," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said. "The chancellor won't get a fourth chance."

© 2010 AFP

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