Angela Merkel: Once she could do no wrong, but her woes are now legion

Sunday, June 6, 2010
By Paul Martin

The latest top-level resignation in Germany adds to the perception of a rudderless Berlin leadership

by Kate Connolly
Sunday 6 June 2010

As if she didn’t already have enough troubles to deal with, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s miseries deepened last week with the resignation of one of her leading political allies, President Horst Köhler.

Köhler, 67, gave Merkel less than two hours’ notice before going on live television to announce his decision, which was apparently driven by his anger over the hefty criticism he had received for appearing to advocate gunboat diplomacy over Germany’s military participation in Afghanistan.

As a former head of the International Monetary Fund, Köhler was the man to whom Merkel had turned in recent months for advice over the financial crisis and whose “authoritative voice”, as she put it, she had greatly valued. His departure was a huge blow to the chancellor, coming only days after the resignation of another Christian Democrat (CDU) heavyweight, Roland Koch, the deputy of the party.The fact that both men have in effect deserted Merkel at a time of political and economic instability and without adequate explanation has only helped nurture the view of an increasingly rudderless Berlin leadership.

To add insult to injury, Merkel’s favoured candidate as Köhler’s successor, the popular labour minister Ursula von der Leyen, was brushed aside by the powerful male, conservative element within the party. Support for the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has sunk to a four-year low of 30%. The slump in popularity follows a string of accusations of mismanagement by Merkel’s centre-right coalition, among them its handling of the EU’s plan to shore up the beleaguered euro, Merkel’s indecision over aid to Greece, defeat in the regional election in North Rhine Westphalia and the chancellor’s decision to forge ahead with a ban on certain types of naked short-selling last month. More bad news is likely to follow today when coalition leaders meet to discuss how they can slash billions from budgets to help plug a record deficit.

Merkel must be longing for refuge away from the slings and arrows being hurled at her in Berlin to enjoy her hobbies of opera and hill walking. But she may instead find herself fighting for the future of her government.

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