UPDATE 1-Kohl attack adds to Merkel's woes before EFSF vote

Thu Aug 25, 2011 7:02am EDT

* Kohl says government policy lacks direction

* Dissatisfaction rises with Merkel's leadership

* Grumbling ahead of parliament vote on bailout fund

By Madeline Chambers

BERLIN, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a driving force of European integration, has launched an unusual public attack on Angela Merkel's foreign policy, adding his voice to a chorus of criticism of her leadership from fellow conservatives.

Kohl said policies ranging from cooperation with European partners to ties with the United States lacked direction and risked undermining German influence.

Kohl's broadside is the latest sign of dissatisfaction with Merkel, especially her management of the euro zone debt crisis, from within her centre-right coalition before next month's parliamentary vote on the euro zone's bailout fund.

"Germany has not been a predictable factor for several years now -- at home or abroad," Kohl, Merkel's political mentor in the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), said in an interview in Internationale Politik newspaper.

"The enormous changes in the world can be no excuse for having no view or idea where you belong and where you are going."

As post-war Germany's longest-serving chancellor, the key architect of German reunification and a major figure in Europe, the 81-year-old still commands respect in Germany.

He said the EU had to stand by Greece in the debt crisis and took aim at Germany's decision to abstain in a U.N. Security Council vote authorising military action to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya earlier this year.

He also suggested that Germany was losing influence with the United States, saying he would never have dreamt that a U.S. president would visit Europe and not stop in Germany.

"We must take care that we do not gamble everything away. We must urgently return to our former dependability," he said.

In response, Merkel said times had changed.

"Every time has its own specific demands. The Christian-Liberal government is working to decisively master the challenges of our time together with our partners in Europe and the world," she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Kohl nurtured Merkel's career, promoting her rapidly but she later challenged her mentor in a scandal over party funding that tarnished his reputation.

PARTY RIFTS BEFORE VOTE

Kohl's blunt attack, which made the front pages of German newspapers on Thursday, comes at a tough time for Merkel.

Divisions are growing in her party ranks in the run up to parliament's vote on the European Financial Stability Facility(EFSF), to be held by Sept. 23, with lawmakers worried about the fund's role and that national parliaments may be sidelined.

The Financial Times Deutschland said on Thursday Merkel had cancelled a trip to Russia in early September to tackle the debate within the party over the facility.

Fears are growing that Merkel may have to rely on opposition support to win the vote, a humiliation that could trigger a challenge to her position.

The CDU's Wolfgang Bosbach said on Wednesday many party members rejected the planned changes to the EFSF agreed by European leaders in July.

He and other senior party members also lamented the lack of openness from Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in a Handelsblatt article on Thursday.

"There is much to suggest the CDU's pro-European loyalty is no longer as fundamental as it used to be," said Deutsche Bank economist Barbara Boettcher in a note this week.

Even cabinet minister Ursula von der Leyen, once close to Merkel, caused embarrassment this week by unexpectedly weighing into a debate about guarantees for Greek aid .

On top of that, conservative President Christian Wulff questioned the legality of the European Central Bank's bond buying programme -- a decision taken with the tacit approval of European governments, including Germany .

Opinion polls show growing public dissatisfaction with Merkel and declining support for her coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP).

Senior Social Democrat (SPD) Thomas Oppermann said his party would not help Merkel in the EFSF vote. The SPD was not there to support a chancellor hold office if she had lost the confidence of her own party, he told ZDF television. (Additional reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Reporting By Madeline Chambers, Editing by Noah Barkin and Elizabeth Piper)

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