AFTER A five-year ceasefire, senior figures in Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have come out of Chancellor Merkel’s shadow to attack her political leadership.
The attack has been camouflaged in a row similar to those at cabinet tables all over Europe: how and where to make budget cuts.
With a budget deficit for this year of nearly €100 billion, excluding the Greek and euro zone bailout loans, Germany needs to save money urgently.
Now the CDU right wing, led by state governor Roland Koch, has challenged Dr Merkel to use the austerity measures to rebuild trust with the CDU’s disillusioned conservative voters. “We’ve agreed projects that are much more expensive than planned, such as the guarantee for childcare for all children under three years,” said Mr Koch. “We have to check if that is still feasible – in education spending, too.”
With that, Mr Koch has fired directly into the heart of Dr Merkel’s strategy since taking office in 2005: to broaden the appeal of the CDU with policies that attract centrist voters and the middle classes.
Sensing her strategy under attack, Dr Merkel wasted no time in responding. “A core area for Germany’s future is education and research, and childcare is part of that,” she said of the extra investment worth more than €13 billion.
“I have no interest in calling that into question and what we have decided is what we will do.”
Mr Koch’s timing is no accident. After a disastrous CDU result in a key state election three weeks ago, he sees Dr Merkel on the back foot in the party.
So far, his analysis has proved correct. One by one nearly all the CDU’s state governors, dubbed the crown princes, have lined up against Dr Merkel.
First to react was Stefan Mappus, the new CDU governor in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg.
Anxious to build his national profile, Mr Mappus has attacked Dr Merkel over weak leadership and “messing around for too long before making decisions”.
Now it’s open season on Dr Merkel. Some governors have criticised her for not doing enough to secure fresh sources of tax income, others have attacked her for deciding projects in Berlin that they cannot finance at local level.
Yesterday her most serious opponent, Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, said his CSU party, the CDU’S Bavarian sister party, would only support the euro zone rescue plan if it contained measures for a finance transaction tax. “We’re not going to just wave something through,” he said.
Dr Merkel is in an unenviable situation. Spending on education and kindergartens is not just a vote-winner, it is essential to meet EU targets. On the other hand, she needs support of her CDU governors to decide cuts as education is a competence of the federal states.
The campaign bore its first fruits yesterday. Two days after Dr Merkel dismissed it, the CDU appears ready to include a levy when the Bundestag votes on the euro zone bailout Bill on Friday.