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Germany

Public Mood Swings Against German Government

Germany's embattled government faces a confidence crisis as a survey over the weekend found that two thirds of voters have lost faith in it. They accuse the coalition of blatantly lying to them before the elections.

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We have a problem on our hands - Foreign Minister Fischer (left) and Chancellor Schröder

The bad news is coming thick and fast. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government, which took a major battering this week on the economic front now has to contend with a disillusioned public, angry about being taken for as they see it a royal ride by the Social Democrat-Green coalition.

A survey commissioned by the German news agency DPA and published over the weekend made it clear that the ruling coalition has slipped badly in popularity polls, making it the only government in post-war German history to lose the confidence of voters so swiftly after the elections.

Voters mad about government not sticking to promises

Just eight weeks after the polls, two thirds of voters (68 percent) accuse the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens of making false promises during the election campaign.

The accusation essentially refers to Chancellor Schröder’s promise of no new taxes which led to his re-election. But this last week has seen the same government reneging on that promise and raising both taxes and social security contributions in a bid to plug a gaping budget hole.

Discontent is rife even within the ranks of the coalition parties. The survey found that some 33 percent of SPD members and 43 percent of Greens were unsatisfied with their own government’s performance and felt cheated by them. Among the conservative opposition parties, the figure was as high as 90 percent.

Chancellor Schröder's reputation takes a beating

The head of the Emnid poll research institute, Klaus-Peter Schöppner told DPA that in particular the reputation of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was severely dented.

"When one considers how Helmut Kohl was irreparably damaged by the party funding scandal, then one can imagine how difficult it is for those responsible – whether Schröder or Eichel or whoever else," he said referring to former conservative Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whose political career was destroyed by a slush fund scandal four years ago.

In particular voters between the ages of 35 and 54 felt hoodwinked by the government. About 75 percent of them said that the Red-Green coalition had let them down. As opposed to that, younger voters between the ages of 18 and 24 appeared indifferent and seemed not to feel deceived.

Government kept uncomfortable truths under wraps

Most experts are of the opinion that one of the major reasons for the loss of confidence in the government is the suppression of unpleasant truths before the election.

Political scientist Everhard Holtmann, head of the Institute for Political Science at the Martin Luther University in Halle told DPA, "the population refuses to believe that the ruling coalition wasn’t aware of the full extent of the financial situation at the center and in the states before September 22 (day of the elections)."

Schöppner deems "not credible" the fact that Schröder and the other members of his government behave as if they discovered the true situation of state coffers only after the election.

Groups with vested interests blocking reform

Holtmann said another reason for the government’s crash in popularity polls was the widespread subvention and privileges network in Germany.

"The majority of the population realizes, that generally the government needs to save on many fronts." But as soon as a saving measure becomes concrete, there’s a huge uproar from lobbying groups and organizations and unions with vested interests, who portray the cuts in particular areas as posing a threat to the common good, he said.

On Friday, at the end of a disastrous week for the government which brought dire headlines, Germany’s service industry trade union, Verdi warned of public sector walkouts unless the government met its demand for wage rises of at least 3 percent. The possibility of a strike has placed the embattled government under further strain.

Schröder too weak to push through reforms

Holtmann also blamed Chancellor Schröder’s wavering commitment to economic reform for the government’s loss of face. "They announce various measures and then withdraw them partially as soon as they sense resistance," he said. That gives the impression of a lack of professionalism, he said.

The past weeks have seen a tug of war between the SPD and the junior coalition partner, the Greens on pension and healthcare reforms. The SPD bowed to pressure from the Greens by setting up a commission on welfare state reform, whose chairman has proposed radical changes to the overstretched state pension system.

There is little doubt that the sick man of Europe is in a bind. It’s clear that while Chancellor Schröder casts around for a way to help Germany out of its financial morass, his government will have to answer to an increasingly doubting population for some time to come.

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