Praised as “Superwoman Angie” in election campaign songs, Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to force Germans to take bitter pills in an effort to overcome the economic recession.
Merkel achieved her goal to form a center-right coalition with the liberal Free Democrats but she could be happier if her Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, were a more dominant force in the government. The Free Democrats, or FDP, already stated that they would not be a smooth partner and would bring their own agenda.
Merkel has been celebrating her victory, but in fact she won fewer votes this time than in 2005 – 33.8 percent compared with 35.2 percent. She increased her popularity through successful crisis management, but her CDU partly lost support in its traditional voters.
In Bavaria, the CDU and Christian Socialist Union, or CSU, stronghold, the farmers, traditionally conservative voters, voiced their unhappiness with milk prices enforced by the EU, but their demands have been rejected so far. Hours before the federal elections, more than 5,000 enthusiastic supporters chanted slogans of “superstar Angie” and “superwoman Angie” at Merkel’s last election rally in Berlin. Those Bavarian milkers, however, only meters away, held a funeral ceremony in protest and waved placards that read, “The last chance to save us.”
“It is remarkable that the strength of the Free Democrats is now rescuing the coalition,” Professor Manfred Güllner said in a post-election analysis. “It changes the perception of the junior coalition partner FDP, which has increased its showing greatly.”
Merkel and the pro-business Free Democratic leader Guido Westerwelle began talks to form Germany’s next government amid disagreements over taxes and labor regulations. Her long-desired center-right coalition may be a source of headache as the stronger FDP presses to implement its own agenda.
“The liberals are stronger in the government than they were 11 years ago. Now they provide a lot votes – up to 15 percent. They can put more emphasis on their wishes,” said Dusan Reljic from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in an interview with Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday.
Despite the fact that Merkel wants to stick to her party program of waiting until 2011 to cut taxes, Westerwelle urges for faster and deeper tax relief and more deregulation of the labor market.
“It’s clear that our compass in these negotiations is our party program,” Westerwelle told reporters Tuesday in Berlin. Westerwelle vowed to push “with full determination” for as much of the program as possible to be accepted, seeking a way toward a joint government platform.
Merkel stated that they wanted to have the government in place by Nov. 9 when Germany marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“I don’t think it will be so easy for Chancellor Merkel. Especially at the beginning, she will have more work to get her coalition working than she had in days with the Grand Coalition,” Reljic added.
As Westerwelle seeks 35 billion euros in tax cuts, Merkel’s tax pledge amounts to 15 billion euros over her four-year term.
“So maybe there will be differences in industrial policies, on social policy and on other issues,” Reljic said. “But they would like to share power. This means compromises. One part will re-track on some issues, the other on other issues.”
Matthias Jung, an analyst from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, noted a similar view, saying “The CDU/CSU might have problems with the FDP when it comes to social issues.”