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Germany

Financial Crisis Pressures German Incumbents, Boosts Opposition

The political fallout from the international financial crisis continues. Angela Merkel is getting pounded for her reticence, and her coalition partners are suffering too. Opponents, however, are making hay.

Merkel giving a talk in October on the financial crisis

So far, the crisis hasn't toppled the CDU. But Merkel's stock is down

A recent survey shows that Germans are rapidly losing confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ability to lead Europe's largest economy through difficult times.

In an extraordinary popularity turnaround, a poll taken for the ARD television network on Thursday, Dec. 4, found only 52 percent now believe the chancellor "will ensure an economic upturn in Germany."

That's a steep 17-point drop over the last year, during which the Christian Democrat chancellor has faced sharp criticism of her crisis management.

Bavarian Premier Hort Seehofer

Seehofer could wave 'hello' to new votes if his tax-cut idea takes hold

Merkel's overall favorable rating fell six points to 65 percent in December from a month ago, while Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat (SPD) rival to Merkel in next September's election, saw his rating up 6 points to 74.

Incumbent SPD suffers, too

But the SPD party as a whole, which shares power with the CDU in the current government, is also being snubbed by voters. Germans vote for parties and do not directly elect their leaders.

The ARD survey found Merkel's CDU has a comfortable 14-point lead over Steinmeier's SPD. Despite Merkel's poor image, the poll found the CDU would receive 37 percent of the vote, unchanged from November, while Steinmeier's SPD fell two points to 23 percent in the last month to the lowest level since August 2004.

Merkel has said she wants to wait until after the election in September before lowering taxes, even though other nations have moved more aggressively to underpin their economies.

Bavarian premier calls for tax cut

Her stance has been met with an uproar from politicians and observers both within her party and without. Many obervers have said it makes little sense to rule out tax cuts now, as the crisis unfolds, yet promise them later on.

Horst Seehofer, chairman of the CDU's Bavarian sister party the CSU, is among the ranks of politicians distancing himself from Merkel. He urged her to act swiftly to lower taxes and stimulate economic growth, rather than wait until it is too late.

FDP sign, shadow of FDP leading politicain Guido Westerwelle

The liberal FDP has seen a boost amid the crisis

"Action is needed now to avoid unemployment and plants closing down," Seehofer told Bild newspaper on Friday, extending the string of warnings that taken to unleashing on Merkel via the media.

Missing a major meeting

Merkel has faced withering criticism across Europe and even in the CDU and CSU for her cautious response to the global economic crisis while other nations have moved more aggressively to underpin their economies with stimulus measures.

She has even had to sit by and watch while France, Britain and the European Commission hold a high-profile meeting on the global economy next week without her.

London announced on Thursday that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso would meet European business leaders on Monday, Dec. 8, to discuss the economy.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, giving a speech

Steinmeier has benefited, but his party has not

Germany -- Europe's largest economy -- was not on the guest list, and some believe the omission was a response to Merkel's isolationist approach.

Germany denies snub

But Germany denied it had been left out as a punishment for its reticent policies.

"The meeting is not directed against Germany or the Chancellor," government spokesman Thomas Steg told news services, when repeatedly pressed on the issue at a news conference.

"We were informed about the meeting so we were not surprised when reports came out about it," he said.

But the talks on a coordinated response to the economic situation risk deepening the divisions over the European Commission's 200 billion euros spending plan to ease the effects of the recession -- which Merkel has reservations about.

EU leaders meet to discuss the plan at a summit on Dec. 11 and 12.

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