Germany’s ruling coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the liberal Free Democratic Party may be threatened with collapse this week, judging from continued internal dissent about the government’s announced austerity measures and the departure of senior conservatives from power.
Angela Merkel’s government announced heavy spending cuts three weeks ago amounting to a total of €80 billion to be saved on expenditures between now and 2016. Many of the chancellor’s own CDU lawmakers fear a voter backlash with the cuts being portrayed as socially imbalanced by the opposition. Almost 80 percent of Germans consider the budget cuts unfair; 67 percent is in favor of raising the top tax rate, something Merkel has strongly resisted. Public dismay over the program prompted thousands of Germans to take to the streets over the weekend in protest.
Within Europe, Merkel has been unable to fully satisfy Germany’s demands. She initially refused to consider a bailout of Greece and the multibillion euro rescue package that was enacted nonetheless has been highly unpopular in Germany. Merkel pushed for tougher sanctions against eurozone members in violation of European budget rules but to little avail: the European Commission along with a majority of member states has refused to comply. Reportedly, relations between Merkel and her French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, have soured in the process.
Since last December, Merkel’s administration has also come under pressure over Germany’s participation in ISAF. German soldiers protested in April over what they perceive to be a largely futile mission. At home, the public is also turning: so much as 80 percent of Germans now favor pulling out of Afghanistan altogether.
The government’s unpopularity culminated last May in electoral defeat for the conservatives in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous and industrious of states. Not only did the CDU lose 22 seats in the state legislature; the ruling coalition was robbed of its upper house majority on the federal level.
The resignation of conservative heavyweights including Roland Koch, the state premier of Hessen, and Horst Köhler, until May 31 highly popular as President of Germany, have further left Merkel increasingly exposed. Two of her own cabinet ministers have even covertly expressed criticism of her policies: Karl-Theodor Guttenberg, often mentioned as a possible successor as CDU party leader, and FDP health ministers Philip Rössler whose efforts to reform Germany’s health care system have been frustrated by political infighting.
Merkel’s current, second cabinet was hailed as a release from the grand coalition between conservatives and socialists that ruled Germany between 2005 and 2009. The liberal FDP increased its share of the vote by almost 5 percent in the 2009 elections, allowing a right-wing majority in parliament.
An opinion pull conducted by German newspaper Bild recently showed 92 percent of managers in business and science disapproving of the ruling coalition. The liberals in particular are deeply unpopular: where they won almost 15 percent of the votes in 2009, today, they would manage to hold on to just 5 to 8 percent of their support. The conservatives and the Social Democratic Party would still garner one third and a quarter of the vote respectively which nearly equals their performance in last year’s election. Throughout Germany however, especially in the east, the SDP is slowly but gradually picking up votes from the far-left party Die Linke. Both the Social Democrats and the Green Party are already calling for new elections.