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Germany

Merkel attempts to quash coalition infighting

Insults have been flying in Angela Merkel's coalition government, forcing the German chancellor to speak out to maintain discipline. A majority of Germans think her ruling center-right coalition will not last.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Merkel's "dream team" coalition is proving more a nightmare for her

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reprimanded members of her center-right governing coalition on Sunday, calling on them to end their public dispute in order to win back voter trust.

Insults have been flying back and forth within Merkel's coalition government, exposing a level of vitriol usually seen in exchanges between the government and the opposition, not among members on the same team. The tenor has forced the German chancellor to speak out to maintain discipline as talk of a coalition on the skids and even new elections fill the air.

"We have to show people that we can be relied upon at this difficult time," she said in an interview in the weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "That's the only way to win back trust."

Strong differences of opinion on policy have emerged within Merkel's coalition of conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) on a variety of issues and sharp tongues have not been held.

A government spokesman was forced to deny reports that Merkel's chief of staff had described Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg as "Rumpelstiltskin," a fairy tale dwarf.

CSU and FDP: two of the ruling coalition partners

The center-right coalition has been plagued by infighting

An FDP lawmaker accused Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) of acting like a destructive "wild sow" over health-reform plans. A senior CSU politician retaliated, calling the FDP a "bunch of clowns."

In an uncharacteristically direct appeal, Merkel urged her colleagues to restrain themselves.

"I assume those involved realize that this behavior is not acceptable," she said in the Bild am Sonntag. "This should not and will not set a precedent."

Merkel denied that her authority as chancellor has suffered because of the row.

Polls show drop in confidence

But the infighting has caused some experts to predict the downfall of Merkel's coalition government.

"The current level of conflict between the conservatives and FDP certainly goes beyond what is normal and some commentators have started to question the stability of the government," Goldman Sachs economist Dirk Schumacher told the Reuters news agency.

More than half of German citizens do not expect Merkel's coalition government to survive for the next three years. According to a survey for the Bild am Sonntag paper, 55 percent of those questioned said they thought the coalition would collapse before the end of its legislative period.

A survey conducted for the German broadcaster ARD also showed that only 40 percent of Germans expect the coalition to last its full term.

Merkel is under pressure to seize the political initiative and boost her party's support, which is languishing at four-year lows according to recent polls.

All eyes on the presidential election

The is one immediate hurdle that analysts say Merkel must overcome to ensure her coalition's future. She faces an unexpected battle to get Christian Wulff, the conservative leader of the state Lower Saxony, elected president on June 30 by the Federal Council, a 1,200-strong body convened to elect the head of state. The previous president, Horst Koehler, resigned suddenly last month.

Presidential candidate Christian Wulff in interview

Coalition hopes are pinned on presidential candidate Christian Wulff

The candidate put forward by the opposition Social Democrats and Greens, Joachim Gauck, poses a strong challenge and is being widely praised in the German media as the better choice.

Some provincial leaders of the FDP have even suggested they might try to obstruct Wulff's election if Merkel tries to raise taxes on the wealthy.

"The failure of Chancellor Merkel's candidate Wulff to get a majority could easily be the beginning of the end of the coalition," said Schumacher.

Author: Joanna Impey (apn/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James

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