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Germany

Merkel papers over coalition cracks with summery words

Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a cheerful performance at her traditional pre-holiday press conference on Wednesday, despite facing questions about awful opinîon polls, fleeing state premiers and her fractious coalition.

Angela Merkel addressing the press conference

Angela Merkel put on a polished performance for the press

Angela Merkel adopted her most relaxed and friendly manner when speaking to the press on Wednesday, fielding questions on a variety of subjects in her traditional pre-summer holiday press conference.

Despite terrible opinion poll ratings – if elections were held this week, the governing coalition of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) would receive only 34 percent of the vote – Merkel drew positive conclusions from the government's first ten months in office.

She claimed that the government had created the conditions for a strong recovery from the economic crisis. "I am optimistic that we will make it," she said, and pointed to improvements in the job market and positive economic forecasts. "Today we have an employment situation – and this is seen internationally as a minor miracle – in which the job market is better than it was before the crisis."

Magnifying glass over stock market chart

Germany's economy has weathered the recession better than expected.

Merkel announced that the government would now concentrate on education, saying there would be a "focus on research and investment in people."

She added, "The next months will be very busy." This is true: a planned healthcare reform has to be implemented, a new energy policy 'concept' agreed – including the thorny question of the lifespans of nuclear power stations – unemployment payments for parents have to be reformed, and the question of Germany's outdated and expensive military service must be addressed.

Coalition in-fighting

But of keenest interest to the assembled journalists was the current state of the coalition, which in the past few months has been openly argumentative. "The tone has often been unacceptable," Merkel conceded, but claimed that the rows are in the past: "I think the coalition has pulled itself together a bit now." But she warned ambiguously, "I can't promise that there won't be any more discussions."

The most recent bone of contention in the cabinet was the savings program of the various ministries, which looked to have been signed, sealed and delivered only a few weeks ago. But on Tuesday, Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle led a mini-revolt of FDP ministers against Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of the CDU, and called for reviews of the budget cuts. Schaeuble was reported to have been furious.

Finance Minister Schaeuble and Economics Minister Bruederle

Schaeuble (left) and Bruederle have been at odds over Berlin's savings plans

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Bruederle judiciously re-phrased his initial objections. "The savings program has been agreed, and it will adhered to, but it has to be implemented intelligently."

Merkel also rushed to disabuse the press of any idea that these disagreements were not all part of the plan.

"On the day when the results of the budget meeting were made clear, we knew that there would be legislative procedures," she said. "And we knew that these legislative procedures would of course bring further debates, and logically that means that there are different views."

State premiers jumping ship

Merkel took a similar line when the issue of resigning state premiers was brought up. Ole von Beust, the popular mayor of Hamburg, who resigned on Sunday was the sixth CDU state premier to step down in the past year. As well as Hamburg, Merkel has lost CDU leaders in Thuringia, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Lower Saxony, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, and many of those departing, including von Beust and the new German president Christian Wulff were considered her personal allies.

Merkel said she regretted the departures, and acknowledged that they represented a substantial change in the CDU, but said this change was far from bad. "You're always supposed to make personnel plans, as they say, and open up new chances," she said. "And if people want to leave then, it's not as if I'm going to say every state premier has to stay until he falls off his chair."

When a question was asked about her personal position, and whether she could set any timescale on her chancellorship, she simply answered, "I decide things one step at a time. At the moment, you can be pretty sure you will see me again after the holiday."

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Susan Houlton

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