Merkel begins re-election push
Angela Merkel launched her re-election campaign today at the height of her popularity, with a speech to a congress of her conservative Christian Democrats that showed off the party unity she will need to prevail in next year's vote.
Delegates stood and applauded for eight minutes after Dr Merkel told them they were the only party that could steer Germany through the "stormy waters" of economic crisis and geo-political change.
With approval ratings near 70 per cent, the 58-year-old chancellor struck a triumphant tone at the party congress in Hanover, repeating that hers was the "most successful government" since German reunification in 1990.
"These are turbulent times and sometimes we find ourselves in stormy waters. But it is the German CDU that has the clear direction to steer our country through these seas," she said.
Dr Merkel, a physicist from East Germany who has become a towering figure in a traditionally West German party, beat the score of just over 90-per cent of votes by which she was last re-elected as party chair two years ago. She won a record 97.9 percent of delegate votes, a strong sign that her party is unified behind her ahead of next year's federal election.
Often criticised abroad but feted at home for defending her country's interests in the euro crisis, Dr Merkel has a good shot at winning a third term next September despite a sharp slide in support for her current coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
"Maybe God created the FDP just to test us," she said in a rare public dig at the party which polls show could fail to make the 5 per cent mark next year that it needs to remain in the Bundestag lower house.
This may force her to consider other options like reviving the "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats (SPD) she ran between 2005 and 2009, or trying an unprecedented alliance with the Greens.
Talk of a "black-green" coalition, named for the parties' respective colours, had grown in the run-up to the congress, held in the capital of Lower Saxony where a state election next month could set the tone for the federal vote next autumn.
The CDU under regional leader David McAllister is on track to win the biggest share of the vote but could still be pushed from power by the SPD and Greens. This could damage Dr Merkel's hopes of re-election as her party has lost control of a handful of states since 2009.
Mr McAllister, whose father was Scottish and whose supporters waved banners that proclaimed "I'm a Mac!", said his state had record employment and solid finances thanks partly to the leadership from Berlin.
"Dear Angela Merkel, we thank you and stand as one behind you," said Mr McAllister, stressing the message of party unity.
Dr Merkel said any one of the challenges she has faced since being elected to a second term in 2009 - the debt crisis, unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, a U-turn on nuclear power - would have been enough for an entire four-year term in office.