Friday 23 August 2019

Merkel's government wobbles as leader of coalition partner quits

Challenges: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who heads Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party at a party meeting in Berlin. Photo: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Challenges: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who heads Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party at a party meeting in Berlin. Photo: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Frank Jordans

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to continue with her government after the leader of a junior partner in her coalition resigned due to a series of disappointing election results.

In a surprise announcement hours earlier, Social Democrats leader Andrea Nahles announced plans to quit, saying she wanted "clarity" after questions were raised about her ability to lead the centre-left party. The party finished third in last month's European Parliament election, receiving 15.8pc of the vote behind Merkel's centre-right CDU with 28.9pc and the Greens with 20.5pc.

Resignation: Coalition party leader Andrea Nahles. Photo: REUTERS/Michele Tantussi
Resignation: Coalition party leader Andrea Nahles. Photo: REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

"The necessary support for me to carry out my duties isn't there any more," Ms Nahles (48) said. She would be stepping down to ensure that her successors were found "in an orderly fashion."

Ms Merkel voiced respect for Ms Nahles' decision, calling her a "fine character" who she had worked with closely over the years.

"Of course I also respect the decisions that the Social Democratic Party now needs to take," she said.

"We will continue the work of government, with all seriousness and especially with a great sense of responsibility," Ms Merkel added, noting the numerous challenges that need to be tackled in Germany, Europe and beyond.

The leader of Ms Merkel's party also sought to downplay the possibility that the "grand coalition" of Germany's two biggest parties would collapse.

"I'm working on the assumption that the Social Democrats will now swiftly make the necessary personnel decisions and the grand coalition's ability to act won't be compromised," Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

"We continue to stand by the grand coalition," she added. In a swipe at her own critics within the CDU, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer warned "this is not the hour for tactical considerations within the party."

Ms Nahles took over as party leader in February 2018 as the Social Democrats reluctantly extended their coalition with Ms Merkel's conservatives following a poor showing in the previous year's general election.

While the Social Democrats have managed to push through their agenda of improving social welfare and working conditions for millions, voters haven't rewarded the party for it in the polls.

Instead, many have turned to the environmentalist Greens, the far-right anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, the socialist left party or Ms Merkel's increasingly centrist CDU in recent years.

An election loss last week in a long-time bastion of the Social Democrats, the tiny north-western state of Bremen, and the prospect of further defeats in upcoming regional votes in eastern Germany this autumn has alarmed many in the party.

"The party is in an extremely serious situation," said Ms Nahles' deputy Malu Dreyer, the governor of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

"If we don't manage to stick together and find a way out of it then things will look really bleak."

Former party leader Sigmar Gabriel said the Social Democrats needed a "detox" to prevent internal power struggles from further harming the party.

Irish Independent

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