German Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered her second blow in eight days after failing to win an absolute majority for a Greek bailout package approved in parliament, revealing cracks within her governing bloc.
Seventeen lawmakers in Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led coalition rejected the 130 billion-euro ($175 billion) bailout package yesterday, putting an absolute majority for the coalition out of reach. On Feb. 19, Merkel’s Free Democratic Party governing partner outmaneuvered the chancellor by supporting a German presidency candidate she had opposed.
“The collapse of the coalition is in full swing,” opposition leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who leads the Social Democratic caucus in the lower house, told Der Tagesspiegel newspaper today. “The limit of its ability to act has been reached.”
Merkel allies downplayed their failure to win a “chancellor’s majority,” citing broad support from opposition Social Democrat and Green Party lawmakers. Still, dwindling support for future euro-crisis measures within her own Christian Democratic bloc and tensions with the FDP after the nomination of former East German dissident Joachim Gauck for the presidency could weigh on Merkel’s control over her coalition.
While Merkel won a total of 496 votes in the 620-seat lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, 13 of the 17 defectors came from her own CDU-led caucus. The 304 votes in favor fell short of the 311 required for an absolute majority.
“We’re observing with concern that the support for the government’s euro agenda obviously continues to weaken within the CDU-led caucus,” FDP General-Secretary Patrick Doering told Tagesspiegel in an interview.
The show of weakness came eight days after a spat between Merkel and FDP Chairman Philipp Roesler over the appointment of Gauck, a former Protestant pastor and pro-democracy campaigner, to replace Christian Wulff, who resigned Feb. 17 amid corruption allegations. The president, whose office is mostly ceremonial, will be elected by a special assembly on March 18.
Roesler’s FDP broke ranks and joined the opposition in supporting Gauck, leaving Merkel little choice but to support the man who ran against Wulff, a former CDU vice chairman, in 2010. Roesler, who is vice chancellor, confirmed an altercation between himself and Merkel, telling Die Welt on Feb. 21 that Merkel’s response to his party’s choice was “tough.”
Roesler told the newspaper that officials from Merkel’s CDU raised the possibility of ending the coalition over their differences, before backing down and supporting Gauck.
To be sure, Merkel remains popular, with her Christian Democratic bloc at 38 percent, the highest poll level since the coalition began in October 2009, according to a Feb. 22 Forsa survey. The same poll put support for the FDP at 2 percent, down from almost 15 percent gained in parliamentary elections in 2009.
Germany’s next election is due in September or October 2013.