German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a new domestic revolt from conservative critics of her eurozone rescue plans.
PHOTO: AFP/Getty Images
German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing a new domestic revolt from conservative critics of her eurozone rescue plans.

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Angela Merkel facing new domestic revolt from conservative critics of her eurozone rescue plans

Election Alternative-2013 say they plan to team up with Bavaria-based Free Voters' party to oppose Merkel

Despite popular German scepticism about eurozone rescue plans, Merkel's personal popularity remains high

(Financial Times) —  

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is facing a new focus of domestic revolt from conservative critics of her eurozone rescue plans, with the launch of a group seeking to bolster support for eurosceptics in next year’s general election.

Founders of the so-called Election Alternative-2013, including a number of mid-ranking supporters from Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, say they plan to team up with the Bavaria-based Free Voters’ party to challenge the chancellor.

They are hoping to tap into a groundswell of German hostility towards creation of the €500bn European Stability Mechanism – due to be formally launched in Luxembourg on Monday – and plans by the European Central Bank to buy eurozone government bonds in order to reduce the borrowing costs of debt-strapped member states.

In spite of popular German scepticism about the eurozone rescue plans, Ms Merkel’s personal popularity remains high, and support for the CDU has risen to between 38 and 39 per cent in the latest opinion polls, almost nine percentage points ahead of the main opposition Social Democratic party (SPD).

Although the polls suggest the pragmatic chancellor is well ahead of all potential challengers, however, CDU party managers are constantly worried about defections of more conservative supporters, particularly those hostile to her eurozone rescue plans.

Ms Merkel’s main challenger, Peer Steinbrück, former finance minister, who has just been chosen by the SPD as candidate for chancellor next year, has faced a rocky first week, with widespread calls for him to declare all his sources of income on top of his parliamentary salary.

He has been a frequent guest speaker at private sector events while in opposition, including many functions organised by banks.

Mr Steinbrück’s main criticism of the chancellor is that she has not been decisive enough in forging a eurozone rescue programme. He has called for partial introduction of jointly-guaranteed eurozone bonds. But he supports the general direction of government policy towards more economic integration between the common currency partners.

The Election Alternative group claims to have backing from former members of the CDU and SPD, as well as the liberal Free Democratic party, junior partners in Ms Merkel’s current centre-right coalition government.

“We come from different parties, although we have a particular strength in the CDU,” said Professor Bernd Lucke of Hamburg University, who is spokesman for the new group.

“It is important to explain what is wrong with current policy,” he told the Financial Times. “Most of the population does not realise yet what dangers are involved. Unsecured claims of the Bundesbank and obligations of the federal government under the various rescue facilities add up to almost €1tn.”

He said Election Alternative-2013 would be holding talks with the Free Voters, in order to agree on a common programme, and propose national figures as potential candidates to the eurosceptic group. The Free Voters’ party has strong roots in local politics in Bavaria, where it won more than 10 per cent at the last state elections, although latest polls put national backing at just 2 per cent.

Election Alternative-2013 has managed to attract support from several leading critics of Ms Merkel’s policy, including Hans-Olaf Henkel, former president of the German federation of industry, as well as Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider and Joachim Starbatty, two professors who have repeatedly challenged Berlin’s policy in the German constitutional court.

However they have yet to win any big popular names for their movement, and dent the popularity of Ms Merkel at the national level.