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Germany

Merkel reelected as head of Christian Democratic Union party

Chancellor Angela Merkel has won reelection as leader of the Christian Democratic Union. She gained widespread support at this week's party conference, which comes ahead of several key state elections in 2011.

Angela Merkel

Merkel needed a good election result

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been reelected as head of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, a sign that the party stands behind Merkel despite recent doubts of the effectiveness of Merkel and the CDU in leading the government.

Merkel ran unopposed and garnered the support of just over 90 percent of her party colleagues. Two years ago she received 95 percent of the votes when she was elected party head. Observers believed a drastic drop in that number would have indicated discontent from within the CDU.

Two police officers carry a demonstrator away

The Stuttgart rail project has proven to be deeply divisive

Merkel's CDU and its junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), have taken a beating in the opinion polls over the last year over an unpopular bailout for fellow eurozone member Greece, the decision to extend the operating lives of nuclear power plants and an expensive rail infrastructure project in Stuttgart that has inspired massive local protests.

With elections to be held in six of Germany's 16 states, 2011 is set to be a key year for Merkel's government. Earlier this year, the center-right coalition already suffered a major blow when it lost power in the country's most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia and control of the Bundesrat, the country's upper house of parliament, along with it.

Leadership renewal

The CDU took another hit when President Horst Koehler stepped down in June after being criticized for suggesting the German military had a role in protecting the country's economic interests. Several other big names have left the political stage and Merkel is set to get a new team of leaders standing behind her.

Around 1,000 CDU delegates are gathered in Karlsruhe, where the party also voted on Merkel’s four deputy leaders. Education Minister Annette Schavan was reelected to the post, while Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen, Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Hesse Premier Volker Bouffier recieved their first nominations.

Schaeuble put to task

Ahead of the party conference, Merkel reiterated her support for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose suitability for the job has been questioned recently due to chronic health problems, which led the minister to a three-week hospitalization last month.

Wolfgang Schaeuble

Schaeuble insists he's fit enough to keep his post

Merkel maintained that Schaeuble was a capable minister and that the party’s support for him was strong, telling ZDF public television, "I enjoy being chancellor with Schaeuble as my finance minister."

However, Schaeuble’s health was not the only source of stress for the finance minister.

Merkel and Schaeuble - who just returned from a G20 conference in Seoul, where they defended Germany’s trade surplus - have repelled demands for tax cuts, as politicians from both within and outside of the party have called for a strong reform to Germany’s tax laws.

CDU parliamentarian Christian von Stetten told the Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag that an improvement to the current laws was needed: "If we don’t put through a tax simplification law that earns that name, then we aren’t taking our voters seriously," he said.

Schaeuble, meanwhile, said that he was open to discussions on improving the tax law with government deputies in parliament.

Divisive issues

Also on Monday, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is due to present delegates in Karlsruhe with his plan for reforming Germany’s military. The delegates are expected to pass a resolution on ending military conscription in Germany, despite the fact that the party has traditionally advocated maintaining compulsory military service for young men.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

Guttenberg advocates an ende to conscription

Another topic to be discussed is the question of preimplantation genetic diagnosis - the testing of artificially fertilized human eggs for congenital disorders prior to implantation.

The issue has been hotly debated in recent weeks, with opponents of the practice claiming it to be a precursor to genetic engineering of human beings. While the CDU remains divided over the matter, Merkel has come out in favor of a ban, claiming it was impossible to differentiate between minor and major congenital disorders.

Merkel told ZDF that she was, however, open to discussion on the topic. "We will conduct this debate with great mutual respect," she said. She added that neither position in the debate was the "Christian" one, as the issue divided even church authorities.

Author: David Levitz, Holly Fox (AFP, AP, dpa,)

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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