November 14, 2011 / 6:51 PM / 6 years ago

Merkel's call to arms on euro underwhelms party

* Chancellor seeks conservative party support on euro

* CDU delegates in Leipzig seem resigned to bailouts

* Little euroscepticism, some in CDU ready to see Greece out

By Stephen Brown and Noah Barkin

LEIPZIG, Germany, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Delegates to a congress of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) got an orange at the door -- her party’s campaign colour -- but security men inside confiscated them, saying they could be used as projectiles against the chancellor.

There was no fruit-throwing at the meeting in Leipzig in the former east Germany, but neither did the chancellor get the kind of enthusiastic response she needs from her party to ensure continued German commitment to tackling the euro zone debt crisis.

Merkel ratcheted up the rhetoric to the Churchillian level she usually avoids, calling it Europe’s “toughest hour since World War Two”.

But as is often the case when Merkel talks about the euro outside the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin -- where her leadership of Germany survived a vote on the bailout schemes in September -- grassroots conservatives at the Leipzig congress did not appear to share her sense of urgency.

Many of the delegates at the annual meeting appeared at best resigned to Germany continuing to bail out euro zone partners that keep backsliding on their public debt, and at worst indifferent to the fate of Germany’s European partners.

While Merkel and her europhile finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, reiterated their calls for “more Europe” via deeper political unity and institutional reforms to strengthen the 17-nation currency reforms, the abstract terms left many of the Leipzig congress-goers cold.

“Europe policy is not so exciting for lots of people here,” said Klaus Essliger from Vechta in Lower Saxony, eating a warm pretzel at the “Senior CDU” bar in a foyer thronged with congress-goers drinking white wine and ignoring the speeches.

He predicted more interest from the party faithful in the seemingly mundane debates on education and welfare, saying such issues were closer to ordinary people in a country whose real economy has largely shrugged off the euro crisis so far.

“We (the CDU) have made the economy strong and created more jobs, and we export more to Europe than China, so Europe does matter to us, but it isn’t something that worries people enormously,” said Essliger.

While there was plenty of enthusiasm for the promotional stands offering such diversions as baby football, make-up advice or shoulder massages, veterans of such congresses said there was a marked lack of excitement at this particular CDU event.


Dietrich Birk, a 44-year-old lawmaker in the state assembly of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the CDU suffered their worst setback in a string of regional elections this year, losing power after six decades, said there was “no euphoria” about Merkel’s call for deeper European unity in the face of crisis.

“People want solutions, they want stability. It is not clear to anyone that this path will succeed in the end,” said Birk.

The CDU, arguably the most important political party in Europe for the survival of the euro, does not have the same problem with eurosceptic rebels as its coalition partners, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and especially the Free Democrats (FDP) -- both had to face down anti-bailout resolutions at their party congresses.

“I find it very positive that nobody here speaks against the euro or suggests leaving it,” said Georg, handing out yellow rubber ducks with a political logo.

“And there’s no eurosceptic party in the German parliament,” he added, pointing out a contrast to the openly anti-European voices that have emerged in countries closely allied to Germany in the European Union like the Netherlands, Finland and Austria.

“Perhaps it is because we as a country have got so much from Europe and the euro. And, because of the Marshall Plan after World War Two (where the United States funded the reconstruction of Europe), the Germans know that we must help Greece,” said Georg, who did not want to give his last name.

But other conservative delegates appeared to have run out of patience. Birk said many delegates he had chatted to felt that “after the debt restructuring in Greece, there is now a readiness to see them leave the euro zone” -- something Merkel no longer rules out entirely.

Herbert Stoller, 75, a dental laboratory owner from Cuxhaven on Germany’s North Sea coast, said after 30 years in the party he found it “very irritating” how the leadership was now focused on public opinion rather than guided by deep, long-standing convictions.

“You can call it diplomacy, or you can call it populism,” said Stoller, who sees himself as a northern German “honest salesman” whose handshake is his bond -- and contrasted that with the way of doing business in southern Europe.

He regretted that the “dilettantes” who built the euro zone had included such unprepared countries as Greece and Italy but saw no other choice than trying to rescue the currency union: “Now that we are in so deep, we have to limit the damage as best we can.”

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