Merkel would lose an election, poll reveals

 

GERMANY’S ECONOMY is booming and dole queues haven’t been as short in 20 years. But if German voters went to the polls tomorrow, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government would be ousted after just a year in office.

That’s the verdict of yesterday’s ARD public television poll, giving Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) just 31 per cent support, with a disastrous 5 per cent for her junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP).

A surge in support for the opposition Green Party means they could return to office with their former coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), with 23 and 26 per cent support respectively. The Left Party is steady with 10 per cent.

On paper, all seems to be going well for Dr Merkel’s government. Growth will top 3 per cent this year while a surge in tax revenue means Berlin will have to borrow €9 billion less than anticipated next year. That means it is firmly on target to meet EU deficit guidelines faster than expected.

Despite the improving economic outlook, however, Dr Merkel is resisting the temptation for voter giveaways and is sticking to an austerity plan to reduce the deficit that ballooned in the last two years of the financial crisis.

She has consistently refused to back FDP tax-cut demands, the smaller party’s still-unfulfilled election promise in 2009 and the main reason the party is flat-lining in the polls.

Other reforms promised by the CDU-FDP government are coming through, just not the popular ones.

Yesterday, the Bundestag voted to reform Germany’s healthcare system by decoupling employer and employee contributions, currently pegged at 7.45 per cent of gross pay.

The government says the reform is necessary to plug an €11 billion hole in the public health system, which cares for 72 million Germans. “This law will make the healthcare system better and fairer,” said FDP health minister Philip Rössler to parliament.

But the reform ensures that all future increases in premiums will be borne solely by employees, a change critics say undermines the system’s founding principle of solidarity. “You are wrecking one of the best healthcare systems in the world,” argued Frank Walter Steinmeier, SPD parliamentary leader.

Finally, despite Dr Merkel’s assurances, German voters suspect plans for new structures to bail out failing euro-zone states will mean a black hole for German tax revenue. Within the government, meanwhile, tensions are growing over finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. His press spokesman quit this week following a dressing-down in public from the minister.

Mr Schäuble’s outburst, now a YouTube hit, shocked even his party allies, while the low-tax FDP is apoplectic at Mr Schäuble’s backing for new local taxes for cash-strapped local authorities.

With Mr Schäuble under fire and suffering from chronic ill-health, Dr Merkel denied her experienced finance minister had become a liability to her government and described as “complete invention” reports that she is planning to replace him as part of a cabinet reshuffle.