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Merkel’s FDP Ally Narrowly Votes to Uphold Euro Bailouts

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Free Democratic Party coalition partner will continue to support the government’s line on euro-area rescues during the debt crisis, after a party vote organized by bailout skeptics was defeated.

The internal ballot that tried to rally opposition to the future permanent rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism, failed to muster the majority needed to change party policy, FDP leader Philipp Roesler said in Berlin today. The necessary quorum of 33.3 percent “was narrowly missed,” he said.

Merkel avoided a “dangerous” policy split that would have risked bringing down her government, Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, said in a phone interview. “In terms of her ability to conduct European policy, it’s largely positive. She can lean back and say, ‘OK, there’s one less threat to deal with.’”

The aim of the ballot, organized by rebel FDP lawmaker Frank Schaeffler, was to force Merkel’s junior coalition partner to oppose the ESM. Bringing the permanent fund forward by a year to 2012 was a key component of a Dec. 9 European summit accord to combat the euro-region debt crisis, and Germany is the biggest contributor to bailouts.

“The FDP is holding to a path of European integration,” Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who ceded the party leadership to Roesler in April, said in a statement e-mailed after the vote. “That’s good news for Germany, for Europe and for the liberals,” as the pro-business FDP are known.

Little Relief

The result bolsters Roesler after the unexpected resignation two days ago of his general secretary and ally, Christian Lindner, prompted speculation that the FDP leader may be next to go. Yet with all six regular national opinion polls showing the FDP below the 5 percent threshold to win seats in parliament, any respite for Roesler may be fleeting, according to Niedermayer.

Roesler, who is both economy minister and vice chancellor, “can’t breathe a sigh of relief because the member vote was just one of his problems,” Niedermayer said. “The FDP hasn’t overcome its dramatic crisis and there’s a real question of what they can do to get the party halfway back on track.”

Schaeffler said in an e-mailed statement that he regrets he wasn’t able to get the Free Democrats to reject the ESM and called on the party’s leadership to honor the fact that 44.2 percent of FDP members backed his motion.

Merkel’s Popularity

Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc dropped one percentage point to 34 percent, while the Free Democrats were unchanged at 4 percent, a poll by FG Wahlen poll for ZDF television showed today. The opposition Social Democrats rose one point to 31 percent and their Green party ally also gained a point to 17 percent. That result, if emulated in elections now, would be enough to form an SPD-Greens government.

Merkel’s handling of the debt crisis has boosted her approval rating, making her Germany’s most popular politician again for the first time since April 2010, the poll showed. Ninety-one percent of Germans back her push to impose tougher enforcement of debt and deficit limits on euro countries.

The Dec. 13-15 poll of 1,232 people has a margin of error of as much as three percentage points.

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