Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Germany in turmoil as president quits

The government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in crisis, following the resignation of Germany’s President Horst Koehler on May 31.

Koehler – a former head of the IMF, and German president since 2004 – resigned after public backlash against comments he made connecting the German economy with increased military deployments.

On a May 22 visit to the German military mission in Afghanistan – something which eighty percent of the German population are opposed to – Koehler told German radio that further military deployments were necessary “to protect our interests, for instance trade routes … or preventing regional instabilities that could negatively impact our trade, jobs and incomes."

Constitutional lawyer Ulrich Preuss called it a “discernably imperialist choice of words”, while Klaus Ernst, co-leader of the antiwar leftwing party Die Linke claimed that Koehler had “openly said what cannot be denied”. Ernst asserted that Afghanistan is a “war about influence and commodities” and defending the export interests of large corporations.

Facing enormous public outcry, Koehler resigned as President, citing a “lack of the necessary respect” for his position. A new president must be appointed within 30 days.

While the German president holds a largely ceremonial role, and is appointed by the parliament, Koehler’s resignation further destabilises Merkel’s already struggling Christian Democrat (CDU) government.

Merkel’s own popularity continues to slide, while her pro-business coalition partner – the Free Democrats (FDP) – have slumped to only 6 percent in recent polls.

She also faces a building euro-debt crisis and popular opposition to Germany’s bailout of Greece, and – in a country where any military involvement is unpopular – a recent scandal revealing German ex-soldiers working as mercenaries for Somali warlord Abdinur Ahmen Darman.

To make matters worse, the previous week, rightwing CDU heavyweight Roland Koch resigned as governor of Hesse, home to Germany’s banking capital of Frankfurt, with a barbed attack on Merkel. On May 9, Merkel’s CDU was defeated in elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, and a “traffic light” coalition state government – between the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and FDP – looks likely now that the SPD have ruled out working with Die Linke.

Defeat in the state election also means that Merkel has also lost control of the German Bundesrat (Upper House), and her political position is becoming increasingly unstable, with speculation rising that she might not last her full term.

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