Merkel FDP Coalition Official Quits Amid Bailout Strains

The general-secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Free Democratic coalition partner stepped down today, exposing party divisions that threaten to distract the German leader as she focuses on euro-area rescue efforts.

Christian Lindner, 32, resigned two years after taking the job as party members squabble over an internal vote seeking to reject the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism. Lindner is an ally of Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Philipp Roesler, who replaced Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle as FDP party chief in April amid slumping support.

“I don’t think it could get worse for the party,” Oskar Niedermayer, a professor of political sociology at Berlin’s Free University, said in an interview on N-TV.

Merkel’s pro-business coalition partner has been skeptical about financing European bailout funds to aid indebted governments such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. The FDP has seen its support plummet since forming a government with Merkel in October 2009, with poll numbers dipping below the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament.

“There are moments in which one has to make way to enable a new dynamic,” Lindner told reporters today in Berlin.

Waiting for Result

The party is awaiting the result of the ESM ballot of party members by the end of the week, though Roesler on Dec. 11 angered those who reject the fund by saying that the internal referendum had not drawn enough voters to establish a quorum.

Merkel’s government would be in danger if the party referendum, spearheaded by rebel lawmaker Frank Schaeffler, draws enough votes and wins a majority against the ESM, said Peter Matuschek, an analyst at Forsa polling group.

“That would certainly be the end of the coalition,” Matuschek said today by phone in Berlin.

The FDP has 3 percent support, giving Merkel’s coalition 38 percent in total, according to a Forsa poll issued today. That compares with a combined 42 percent for the opposition Social Democratic Party and Green Party, the poll showed.

The FDP, which backs lower taxes and scaled back regulation, won 14.6 percent in the September 2009 parliamentary election, giving it enough to form a government with Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc.

“They’re going to need to move forward and gain momentum, at least toward the 5 percent mark,” Matuschek said. “It will become tense over the next few weeks.”

Roesler said he’ll announce a replacement for Lindner at the end of the week. The party chairman favors the FDP’s treasurer, Patrick Doering, Rheinische Post newspaper reported.

A new general-secretary “will give us the opportunity to look ahead together as a joint FDP with the necessary decisiveness and the necessary cooperation,” Roesler told reporters today in Berlin.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Patrick Donahue at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

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