- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2011

BERLIN | Angela Merkel has had a hard year, battling a ballooning debt crisis in Europe and growing discontent at home, but many analysts say she will survive as Germany’s chancellor.

Her coalition government continued to take a beating in state and local elections - the latest in her own parliamentary district.

That blow hit especially close to home for Mrs. Merkel, who made nine campaign appearances in Mecklenburg-Pomerania - a small, economically weak state in northeastern Germany, before the Sept. 4 election.

“We have our work to do,” Mrs. Merkel said last week, admitting that the party needs to act more decisively to win back voters.

Her Christian Democratic Union has suffered a string of embarrassing defeats in six state elections this year, including losing its 58-year grip on the rich southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg in March. The CDU looks set to take another drubbing in Berlin’s local election later this month.

Mrs. Merkel’s suffered sharp losses in Mecklenburg-Pomerania, scoring only 23 percent of the vote in a fall of nearly 6 percentage points from 2006.

The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens took advantage, making major gains as they have done in other recent German state elections.

Her government has struggled to manage the financial crisis in the “eurozone,” the 17 countries in the European Union that use the euro as the national currency. Berlin’s participation in bailing out debt-laden European countries like Greece has put Mrs. Merkel at odds with the German public.

“She’s been criticized for lacking leadership and orientation,” said Ralf Welt of dimap communications, a political think tank that conducts research and surveys.

A recent popularity poll from dimap revealed that 54 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with their chancellor.

She also has been sharply criticized by the opposition and even members of her own party for waffling on issues from nuclear policy to the euro - a problem that opponents say has led to a significant loss of trust in government.

“Chancellor Merkel’s policies are not clear,” said Hans-Joachim Hacker, an SPD parliamentarian from Mecklenburg-Pomerania. “In the beginning of the crisis when it became clear Greece would need aid, she said Greece wouldn’t get any money. That was her policy. Then the government agreed to two bailout packages.”

“That’s not good European politics. Germany needs Europe, just like Europe needs solidarity from Germany,” he added.

Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled last week that the government broke no law by participating in the joint $152 billion eurozone bailout.

However, despite losing votes in her own backyard, Mrs. Merkel and her relations with the rest of the world will remain largely unaffected, many analysts say.

“I don’t think it’s as tragic as it is being made out to be,” said Jurgen Falter, a professor at the University of Mainz who specializes in German political parties. “Mrs. Merkel is still vitally important in national politics and that hasn’t changed.”

More troubling for Mrs. Merkel’s government, say analysts, are the losses of her center-right coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP).

The pro-business party scored a dismal 2.7 percent in last week’s elections, losing two-thirds of their support and failing to reach the minimum threshold needed to be a part of the state legislature of Mecklenburg-Pomerania.

“This defeat tastes bitter,” said FDP General Secretary Christian Lindner, emphasizing the need to return to the party’s core issues like the economy and the job market.

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