Germany's conservatives are fighting an image problem with state elections looming. Internal strife seems to be high on the agenda of too many CDU politicians, and the only beneficiary is Chancellor Schröder.
Are Angela Merkel's chancellor chances rising or sinking?
When the waters rise to the chins of German politicians, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder seems to swim easily in the current while his opponents flounder to stay above the surface. Schröder did it during the Elbe River floods just before the 2002 federal elections, and now again, he has overtrumped the opposition with his masterful handling of Germany's response to the tsunami disaster in Asia.
No matter how unpopular his Social Democratic Party (SPD) may be, Schröder's image remains, for the most part, unblemished. And with important state elections looming, his image may just save the party.
The SPD has suffered defeat after defeat in recent state polls, but citizens of two SPD strongholds -- Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia -- will be going to the voting booths in the next four months. Should these states be ceded to the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), Berlin's center-left coalition would be very lonely.
Always looking good -- Gerhard Schröder has no image problem
But a weekend survey conducted by Infratest showed the Social Democrat-Green coalition in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, edging ahead of the opposition for the first time in two years. A similar picture has been painted in Schleswig-Holstein.
In the national polls, the CDU garnered a significant lead over the SPD in the past year, only to see that lead shrink dramatically due to the party infighting of the past few months.
Angela Merkel lacks authority
Heading into an SPD party meeting in Weimar on Monday, Schröder took a shot at the CDU's failure to stand united. He claimed that Edmund Stoiber, his challenger in the 2002 election and the head of the CDU's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), had yet to swallow the defeat and was warming himself up for another run in 2006.
Schröder went on to say that he would have absolutely nothing against another Stoiber candidacy.
Does Edmund Stoiber still have aspirations to be chancellor?
Last week at a CSU party meeting, one of Stoiber's leading colleagues, Michael Glos, again criticized CDU chairwoman and would-be chancellor candidate, Angela Merkel. His remarks earned him a rap on the knuckles, but the message was clear: Merkel can not line up the troops behind her.
The German media smells blood and is speculating a party coup will occur. The business daily Handelsblatt commented that the "bold experiment of entrusting a party ... to a pastor's daughter (Merkel) from the East is at risk of failing."
Tsunami aid debate hurts CDU
In the aftermath of the tsunami disaster two weeks ago, Schröder pledged €500 million ($654 million). It was a seemingly large amount for a country struggling to meet budget deficit demands from the European Union. That was what the CDU thought, too.
Merkel (right) and Stoiber chatting before a November press conference
Merkel demanded that Schröder spell out exactly how the money would be spent and when. Stoiber wondered aloud on RTL television where the funds would come from.
When asked on German public television, ZDF, if Germany could afford to offer such a generous aid package, Schröder called the debate "extremely petty-minded." After all, the pledged aid makes out 0.04% of the German annual budget over a five-year period, according to the chancellor.
Guido Westerwelle, head of the opposition Liberal Democrats, sensed that the topic could burn them. His party promised to support the tsunami aid legislation.
While the CDU may have lost points in that debate, they underlined the fact that they had first dibs on naming a chancellor candidate to run against Schröder in the 2006 elections -- presumably Angela Merkel. But has anyone told Edmund Stoiber?