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Germany

Merkel Scotches Rumors of Power Struggle

Germany’s conservative party leader Angela Merkel has brushed aside allegations that some senior members of her Christian Democratic Union are plotting against her in an effort to unseat her as party chairwoman.

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Merkel has sought to play down the recent turbulence within her party

At the weekend some of Merkel’s key conservative allies said that a series of political blunders committed by Merkel recently were secretly masterminded by Merkel’s inner-party rivals who want to prevent the CDU leader from becoming the next conservative candidate in the race for the chancellorship in 2006.

On Monday Merkel suffered yet another blow as her choice for a prominent party post refused to take up the vacancy.

Two of her closest allies in the party leadership said at the weekend that recent political mishaps, including a forced about-face on plans for a populist campaign against Turkey’s EU bid, didn’t come entirely out of the blue.

They speculated that a group of party barons from Western Germany were bent on ousting Merkel – who is from eastern Germany – in an attempt to level the playing field for their own ambitions to become the conservatives' candidate for the chancellorship.

Merkel plays down alleged ouster

Angela Merkel in Sindelfingen

Angela Merkel is not known for giving up things without a fight

But Merkel appeared calm and composed on Monday, putting a brave face on allegations that there was a putsch underway to oust her.

But Merkel brushed aside such concerns, saying this was not the time to play political games.

"Against the background of economic decline which is again looming large in this country, the entire CDU presidium refused to discuss such allegations," she told reporters. "So this debate has come to an end before it actually started."

String of setbacks

Yet Merkel has had to endure a spell of dramatic setbacks in recent weeks raising questions about the CDU leader’s strategies and the strength of her leadership. Her blunders include a series of heavy losses at recent state and local polls, the resignation of a key CDU parliamentary figure, and unresolved policy quarrels with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Kompetenzteam: Wolfgang Schäuble, Porträt

Wolfgang Schäuble

Merkel’s inner-party troubles were compounded on Monday, after Wolfgang Schäuble (photo) refused to take up Merkel’s offer of becoming the CDU‘s influential finance and economics spokesman in parliament. Merkel now claims Schäuble refused because he felt more comfortable with foreign politics.

"This is not at all the dramatic error I’m said to have committed," she said. "I don’t think it is anything unusual that Wolfgang Schäuble refused my offer because he believes that he is more valuable to the party in his current post as the party’s foreign affairs expert. So I don’t see this as a big deal at all."

Fear of chaos

Political observers, however, see this as yet another indication that scores are currently being settled within the CDU which are undermining Merkel’s position as the undisputed ruler of the conservatives. And already the CDU’s traditional allies and long-time junior partners in coalition governments – the liberal Free Democrats (GDP) – are beginning to worry.

"I think that unresolved power and personality issues are clearly behind those discussions," said FDP leader Guido Westerwelle. "The CDU would be well advised to decide about the conservative candidacy this year already. Otherwise I fear there is going to be never-ending chaos within the party which will tarnish our reputation among the electorate."

A crucial CDU party congress to be held in early December will show how strong Angela Merkel’s grip on the conservatives still is, as delegates will be voting on a controversial health care reform plan.

Overwhelming support for her proposals would also send a clear signal to her conservative foes that Merkel may have stumbled, but will not fall.

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