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Germany

Schröder Quiet on Confidence Vote

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder continues to keep silent about the logistics of a confidence vote needed for proposed early elections much to the chagrin of members of his own center-left coalition.

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Schröder wants more party discipline from the Social Democrats

The intrigue and conjecture surrounding planned early elections has been intensifying for days in Berlin. Following a crushing defeat in a regional vote in May, Schröder called for new polls to be held in September. To do this, he has scheduled a vote of confidence on July 1. If the party would follow the leader, they would vote against him and the elections could take place.

But the chancellor has a problem: inner-party adversaries from the left are planning to vote for him in an attempt to thwart the early elections. This was something that Schröder didn't plan on. Rumors about a possible resignation before July 1 then spread to which he called "the wildest speculation."

But the already weak position of Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) in parliament could work to his advantage. With a slim three-seat majority, the chancellor need only ask his own cabinet members to vote against him or abstain. Interior Minister Otto Schily said he would do his part.

"If I’m not going to take part in the confidence vote, I can neither vote yes or no," he said. "This is a viable option in line with the German constitution although I want to stress that it‘s all theoretical. There is no need for the chancellor to resign. Gerhard Schröder is still chancellor and he is planning to remain that beyond the elections."

Greens feel patronized

The secrecy regarding the upcoming vote has not only caused great irritation within the SPD. The junior coalition partner Green party is fuming and feels kept in the dark.

Katrin Göring-Eckardt

Greens parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt doesn't think current government chaos is attributable to them

Two weeks ago Schröder largely bypassed them when he decided for early elections. Now some members are rethinking whether the center-left coalition, if it were somehow victorious in September, should be continued. Back to the basics is the call of some.

"We should sharpen our image as an ecological party," said Albert Schmidt, a Green member of parliament, "because an election campaign waged on center-left coalition nostalgia doesn't make sense anymore. It would be foolish to believe that our alliance will regain power. We are headed for opposition and the Social Democrats clearly aim for a grand coalition with the conservatives."

Opposition has its own headaches

Bildgalrie Angela Merkel Zusatzbild

CDU chancellor candidate Angela Merkel enjoys comfortable margin

A grand coalition? It would be hard to believe that the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) would have to resort to that. Opposition leader Angela Merkel (photo) currently enjoys a nearly 17-percent lead in opinion polls and stands a good chance of becoming the first female chancellor of Germany.

But she too has troubles with her potential junior coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP). The two parties are at loggerheads over ways to finance major tax cuts promised to German voters. Merkel wouldn’t rule out an increase in the value-added tax to finance a major overhaul of the tax and social security systems.

"Our weak economy would be hurt by higher taxes," she said. "On the other hand we must be honest and tell voters that much depends on the state of public finances in Germany and the need to reform our social systems. I won’t rule out anything at this moment."

Her remarks have angered the Free Democrats who are pushing for radical tax cuts and plans to curb trade union powers. But some pollsters say the CDU might even win an absolute majority in the elections, which has strengthened Merkel's hand with her liberal allies.

But before any of this happens, Gerhard Schröder must lose his vote of confidence on July 1 and under the current circumstances, that is anything but a sure thing.

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