Merkel tries to get second term back on track

14th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Since being re-elected in late September, Merkel's new period in charge has been marked by squabbles and controversy.

Berlin -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought on Sunday to reassert her authority after a shaky start to her second term by overcoming opposition within her own party to contentious tax cut plans.

Since being re-elected in late September, Merkel's new period in charge has been marked by squabbles over how best to boost the economy, while a controversial air strike in Afghanistan forced the resignation of a minister.

Merkel ditched her centre-left bedfellows of her first four years for a new coalition more to her liking, aiming to steer Germany out of its worst recession since World War II by slashing taxes.

The Bundesrat upper house is due to vote on the cuts on December 18, but with several premiers of Germany's 16 cash-strapped states voicing opposition, it is far from certain that it will hit the statute book.

In a last-ditch effort to ensure it becomes law, Merkel was due on Sunday to come face-to-face with the main opponent, Schleswig-Holstein premier Peter Harry Carstensen, a member of her own Christian Democrat (CDU) party.

A failure "would complete the impression of a false start," the Die Zeit weekly said.

These cuts, worth some 8.5 billion euros (12.5 billion dollars), are just the beginning, with Merkel and her Free Democrat (FDP) partners gunning for a total worth almost three times as much, despite Germany's ballooning deficit.

"Those who have experienced how hard Merkel is fighting now ... have only to imagine how it is going to be in a year's time when we're talking about far greater sums," the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said in an editorial.

Further friction is forecast further down the road over the root-and-branch reform of how Germany taxes its citizens and firms wanted by the FDP, and over how to patch up the ailing health care system.

Horst Seehofer, head of the CDU's Bavarian sister party the CSU, also irked Merkel last week by talking down the chances of more troops to Afghanistan, a decision put off by Berlin until after a London conference on January 28.

The Afghanistan mission, already unpopular among voters, has generated reams of additional negative press coverage in recent weeks due to an air strike ordered by a German commander in September believed to have killed dozens of civilians.

On November 27, the defence minister at the time of the raid, who was labour minister in the new government, quit over his handling of the affair, and his successor Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is feeling the heat now too.

According to the usually well-informed Bild mass-circulation daily, the normally icy cool Merkel lost her rag at a recent get-together of top brass in her conservative party, bursting out with "such crap!" at one point.

"We have no common direction," the Sueddeutsche cited an unnamed minister as complaining.

Merkel's style in her first term, staying aloof matriarch-like while the "grand coalition" parties squabbled, may not be working quite so well in the new set-up, observers say.

"Angela Merkel has a nose for power, and certainly convictions too, but she has not acquired any authority," Die Zeit said.

Simon Sturdee/AFP/Expatica

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