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Germany

Coalition cracks appear over pensions as poll ratings slide

Rifts are once again appearing in Angela Merkel’s coalition as polls show the government’s popularity sinking fast. The latest round of in-fighting comes over a call to end pension guarantees.

Angela Merkel

Support for Chancellor Merkel's coalition is sliding

In the latest public spat, German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle attacked the pace of the reforms being carried out by the coalition.

Bruederle, from Merkel's coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP) took a swipe at Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

"We were surprised to discover that the our preferred coalition partner the CDU has moved so far away from its earlier willingness for reforms and from its earlier line on economic policy," Bruederle told the German daily newspaper Handelsblatt on Friday.

Rainer Bruederle

Bruederle signalled frustration over coalition economic policy

Bruederle went on to attack the CDU for what he perceived as a failure to adhere sufficiently to market economics.

"Frau Merkel is a successful chancellor," said Bruederle. "However, at the same time, she is the leader of a party whose market economy wing doesn't always have it easy."

Crucially, Bruederle called for an end to a guarantee on the level of income that pensioners receive.

Those comments prompted Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the CSU, to criticize Bruederle for stirring trouble. He blamed the arguments for slipping poll ratings for coalition parties.

Bruederle's comments were "exasperating," Seehofer told the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau's Saturday edition, adding that the debate was pointless and that it could only cause upset and uncertainty among voters.

"Pension cuts are not on the agenda and would also not be supported by the CSU under any circumstances," he said.

Fuel to the debate

However, more fuel was added to the debate by Stanislaw Tillich, CDU Premier of the state of Saxony, who said that the pension system would eventually need reform.

"There will not be such a pension guarantee in the long term because young people cannot be permanently burdened in this way," he told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

Horst Seehofer

Seehofer said he was exasperated by the pension debate

A number of other cloudy issues remain to be resolved by the coalition parties, with parliament due to resume in September. Among them are nuclear power - which sparked public controversy within the alliance a week earlier - wider welfare reform steps and tax cuts.

Merkel is currently taking a three-week holiday in the Italian Alps and commentators are posing questions.

"The government has no plan," wrote German Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag columnist Michael Backhaus. "It's coming apart at the seams with petty fights about every issue imaginable. The big question is 'What does this government want?'."

The coalition is backed by only 34 percent of the electorate according to a poll for the German weekly magazine Stern, down from more than 48 percent in last year's September election.

Together, the CDU and CSU had the backing of 29 percent of voters, in the poll published last Wednesday, while the FDP had 5 percent.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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