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Merkel Takes Vacation as Debt Crisis, Domestic Woes Fester

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, pauses during a debate in the lower-house of the German parliament in Berlin on Oct. 21, 2011. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Chancellor Angela Merkel presided over her final Cabinet meeting of 2011 before she takes a winter break, leaving behind the simmering debt crisis and a political ally whose job as German president is on the line.

Merkel discussed minimum wages, changes to a stocks law and a bill on energy-efficiency labeling with ministers in Berlin today, her last publicly scheduled meeting before she goes on vacation tomorrow. Her spokesman declined to say where she is going, saying only that her next official appearance is not until Jan. 5.

As she takes time out, the German leader leaves the threat of a credit-rating downgrade hanging over Europe’s biggest economy and the wider euro area, as rating companies join investors in questioning the impact of Merkel’s Dec. 9 European summit push for closer fiscal ties to combat the crisis. The euro fell to an 11-month low against the dollar on Dec. 14.

“They haven’t solved the crisis,” Christian Schulz, an economist at Joh. Berenberg Gossler & Co in London, said by phone. “If the whole thing blows up, it’s going to cost Merkel a lot. Her future rests on the future of the euro.”

German efforts to reach out to Britain after Prime Minister David Cameron was the only leader to refuse to join Merkel’s “fiscal compact” were rebuffed yesterday, as the U.K. snubbed European efforts to bolster its crisis-fighting capacity via the International Monetary Fund. While four countries not using the single currency pledged to join the 17 euro nations in adding to the IMF’s resources, Britain refused to commit.

Domestic Buffeting

Merkel, who last winter went cross-country skiing in the Swiss Alps, is also being buffeted domestically as her candidate elected to the German presidency, Christian Wulff, fights daily allegations in the German media amid growing scrutiny of a private home loan and vacations at the homes of business people. Her Free Democratic coalition partner is limping into Christmas after a clash between the party leadership and bailout skeptics over support for the permanent rescue fund.

Merkel still has “full confidence” in the president, Steffen Seibert, her chief spokesman, said in Berlin today, repeating comments by Merkel yesterday. Questions about his conduct “will be cleared up” by Wulff, Seibert said. “It’s right to do everything to clear up possible questions.”

The chancellor is due to sign a book of condolence for former Czech President Vaclav Havel at the Czech embassy in Berlin today, Seibert said, in her final public appointment for more than two weeks.

Merkel, who heads the biggest country contributor to euro-area bailouts, can perhaps afford a pause even though markets “can reverse very quickly,” said Schulz.

“The governments have done what they could, pretty much, but there are significant risks,” including of a sovereign downgrade, Schulz said. For Merkel, “even though her government is certainly not strong, she has so far managed to get by.”

Download: Mauldin Says Europe Endgame Approaching


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