August 6, 2006

Merkel under attack from her own party

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's
government came under attack on Sunday from leaders in her own
party as the conservatives fell to a record low in opinion
polls amid public anger over rising taxes and stymied reform

The head of the leading opposition party, Free Democrat
chairman Guido Westerwelle, predicted Merkel's nine-month old
grand coalition would collapse well before the next election
set for 2009 because of bad blood between the two ruling

"The polling numbers clearly show the CDU has alienated its
own voters," Joerg Schoenbohm, CDU chairman and interior
minister in Brandenburg state, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"The voters don't like what they're seeing. We're losing
our most loyal supporters. They're terribly disappointed about
the path we're on. They say this isn't the party they voted

His fears were echoed by the CDU state leader in
Rhineland-Palatinate Christian Baldauf, who said voters were
not satisfied with the grand coalition and especially annoyed
about its plans to raise taxes and increase fees for health

"These are massive burdens to people and yet they see no
signs of any master plan in Berlin," Baldauf said.

The CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian
Social Union, have fallen to 31 percent in a weekend ARD TV
poll, the lowest support since taking office in November and
their weakest standing since 28 percent in the depths of ex
Chancellor Helmut Kohl's campaign donations scandal in 2000.

The conservatives have now fallen 10 points since February.

Merkel, who has won praise for her foreign policy, faced
widespread criticism over backtracking on promises to lower
wage costs in order to promote job creation. Her reform of the
health care system has also come under withering attack.

Merkel's standing has fallen rapidly since June, when the
sweeping health care reform that was supposed to lead to lower
health insurance fees was aborted and replaced with a
small-scale compromise deal that actually leads to higher fees.

Merkel labeled the deal a breakthrough but has been
belittled for that claim by some of her own party leaders.
North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Juergen Ruettgers warned
her not to treat voters as fools by calling it a breakthrough.

SPD parliamentary floor leader Peter Struck accused Merkel
of breaking her word and conservative SPD leader Johannes Kahrs
had harsh words: "The fish always starts stinking from the head
first," which sparked speculation the coalition was fraying.

"We're indeed facing headwinds from the federal government
right now that I hope stop soon," said Friedbert Pflueger, top
CDU candidate in Berlin's September state election.

The CDU is far behind the SPD in Berlin and problems for
Merkel could intensify if the CDU is routed in that state poll.

Westerwelle, whose FDP has surged in polls as the CDU and
SPD have weakened, said he expected the coalition to collapse.

"It can no longer be ruled out that this coalition that is
fighting itself will fall apart either next year or the year
after," Westerwelle told German television on Sunday.

"The next election will come ahead of schedule in 2009."

Fritz Kuhn, parliamentary leader of the opposition Greens,
told Bild am Sonntag he too sensed the coalition was in

"We have to be ready for the collapse of the grand
coalition," he said. "This government is doing a lousy job in
crisis managing. We never fought in public as much when we were
in power as the SPD and CDU are now."