Support for Merkel's fractious coalition slumps: survey

BERLIN Sun Oct 9, 2011 10:05am EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germans believe a "grand coalition" of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) would rule the country better than her current fractious cabinet, a survey showed on Sunday.

Some 41 percent of Germans believe such a coalition would be best placed to solve Germany's problems, according to the Emnid poll published by mass-selling Bild am Sonntag. Just 12 percent were in favor of the current coalition of conservatives and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).

Infighting in Merkel's cabinet and a slump in support for the FDP have crimped her room to maneuver at a crucial point in the euro zone crisis when leaders worldwide are clamoring for Europe's largest economy to show more leadership.

Merkel meets with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday to discuss how to counter the crisis threatening the global economy.

Some members of the FDP, as well as the Christian Social Union, sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), have sought to distance themselves from her European policy in order to rally support among bailout-weary Germans.

"It's not surprising that Germans' desire for a grand coalition is growing given that this stands for a strong state or at least a strong government," wrote Bild in an editorial, under the headline "Where to, Chancellor?."

Germany has come under fire for its hesitant stance on solving the euro zone crisis. World Bank President Robert Zoellick told Wirtschaftswoche magazine there was a lack of vision in Europe and Germany needed to show more leadership.

"When the East bloc collapsed some 20 years ago, Chancellor Helmut Kohl had a vision how things could develop," he said, referring to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes in East European countries. "There is a total lack of this now, and the longer that continues, the more money it will cost and the fewer options will remain."

Merkel's CDU is working on its vision for Europe, Spiegel magazine wrote, quoting a draft of a policy paper for the party's November conference.

According to this draft, the CDU wants more Europe, namely a "completion of the currency union" through greater economic integration. The euro zone should also have a restructuring procedure for members that are unable to fulfill the conditions for a stable common currency despite increased incentives.

One further CDU proposal is for big countries like Germany to have a greater influence in the European Central Bank, according to Spiegel. Two German ECB policymakers quit the ECB this year in apparent protest at the its bond-buying program.

It is unclear however which proposals will remain in the final draft, which the working group is set to agree on Wednesday, and the CDU leadership toward the end of October.

Meanwhile, the CSU and FDP are discussing their European strategies separately and taking a tougher stance on bailout aid, making it difficult for Merkel to push through her ideas.

FDP SUPPORT SLUMPS

Support for the FDP slumped to 3 percent, according to a separate Emnid poll published on Sunday, while the conservatives were steady at 32 percent, giving them a combined 35 percent.

Support for the SPD and Greens was stable at 28 and 17 percent respectively, giving them a total of 45 percent.

The winners were once again the upstart Pirate Party, who gained two percentage points to 9 percent, meaning they could board parliament in the next federal elections and suggesting a frustration with main-stream parties.

The Pirates are a German branch of the party that emerged five years ago in Sweden to campaign for freer Internet usage.

Since broadening their agenda to issues such as more direct democracy and establishing a minimum wage, they have struck a chord with voters in Germany.

FDP leaders at the weekend conceded they could learn from the Pirates, who were long dismissed as too kooky to take seriously but plundered the FDP's voters in a recent regional election in Berlin where they took 9 percent of the vote.

"These (voters) are people who want to live their personal freedom ... we will fight for these voters," FDP Deputy Leader Christian Lindner told Spiegel. "We have greater competence."

The prospect of a grand coalition at state level in Berlin is becoming increasingly likely, as coalition talks progress. Such state elections are widely seen as a verdict on national government.

(Additional Reporting by Andreas Rinke)

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