* Coalition party votes on euro bailout scheme
* Eurosceptics fail to get majority or quorum
* Doubts remain about Merkel coalition partner
By Stephen Brown and Annika Breidthardt
BERLIN, Dec 16 Eurosceptics in Germany's
Free Democrats lost an internal vote on a permanent euro zone
bailout scheme, the leader of the coalition party said on
Friday, removing a threat to Chancellor Angela Merkel's
leadership and European policy.
"The FDP remains clearly focused on a pro-European stance,"
party leader Philipp Roesler said, adding that a failure to meet
the quorum of a third of party members made the referendum
questioning the European Stability Mechanism invalid.
A majority vote against the ESM could have prevented the
Free Democrats from backing Merkel on crucial euro issues and
even brought down her coalition, bringing forward the 2013
elections at a time when the opposition centre-left looks a real
threat to her.
Roesler, 38, appeared to have narrowly averted a threat to
his own leadership, only half a year after taking over from
unpopular Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
The turnout fell just short of a quorum with nearly 32
percent of party members voting, while FDP backbencher Frank
Schaeffler got 44.2 percent support for his anti-ESM motion.
"We hope the FDP leaders recognise how close this result
was," said a statement from eurosceptics Schaeffler and Burkhard
Hirsch, who say bailouts risk creating a "transfer union" where
German taxpayers underwrite less disciplined states like Greece.
The FDP has been a liability for Merkel since helping her to
a second term with its record performance in a 2009 election.
Its unpopular leaders and failure to deliver on promised tax
cuts have dragged the party below the 5 percent threshold needed
to win seats in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament.
Roesler's even younger second-in-command resigned just two
days ahead of the results of the vote on the ESM, underscoring
tensions in the party about the scheme which euro zone leaders
plan to roll out a year ahead of schedule in mid-2012.
CRACKS IN COALITION
Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin's Free
University, said the FDP internal vote was really "a vehicle for
expressing dissatisfaction at the party" and that this explained
the high proportion of votes for the rebel backbenchers.
The opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens said
however the vote showed the FDP still had a leadership crisis
and undermined Merkel's authority for leading the euro zone out
"You can't run a country with such a crumbling majority in
times like these, that's the bad news for Frau Merkel from this
vote," said Greens parliamentary leader Juergen Trittin.
Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their
Bavarian sister party, the CSU, are unlikely to renew the
alliance with the FDP -- known as the Liberals -- in 2013. The
question is whether the coalition can survive until then.
"I am counting on the agreement between the conservatives
and the FDP being respected by both sides for the rest of this
legislature up to 2013," said Michael Meister, deputy leader of
the conservatives in parliament, before the result was known.
Merkel's allies have warned her not to assume easy passage
through parliament of decisions taken last week at a European
Union summit, such as handing over some budget sovereignty to
Brussels and moving up the launch of the ESM.
In September Merkel narrowly survived a crunch vote in
parliament pushing through changes to the ESM's predecessor, the
European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), even though 14 MPs
in her centre-right coalition voted against it.
The coalition has other problems, too. The man Merkel made
head of state last year, a CDU ally, is embroiled in a home-loan
scandal that has hurt his image and could damage her authority.
German President Christian Wulff has come under fire over
accusations he misled lawmakers about a private 500,000-euro
($650,000) loan which he obtained on special terms from the wife
of a wealthy businessman friend.
Wulff said on Thursday he regretted not telling the regional
parliament in Lower Saxony, the state he used to run, all the
details of his loan.