Embattled Kohl seeks religious relief for his ills

Chancellor Helmut Kohl and senior members of his government retreated to a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria yesterday, seeking a brief moment of tranquillity away from the battles of the Cabinet.

After a month of endless rows, Mr Kohl entered the sanctum demonstratively hugging his turbulent Finance Minister, Theo Waigel, who had brought the government to the brink of collapse by suggesting that its members had run out of steam.

On the Chancellor's other side walked Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian Prime Minister, who seems determined to sink Mr Kohl's most cherished project, European monetary union.

Mr Waigel heads the Christian Social Union, the party to which Mr Stoiber belongs.

The CSU is in effect the Bavarian sister party of Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats, forming a joint bloc in the Bundestag in Bonn. But there the similarities end.

Despite their alliance, the three men are pulling in three directions, to the great delight of the opposition.

Mr Stoiber is trying to oust Mr Waigel and at the same time scupper monetary union.

Mr Waigel is thus compelled to protect his Bavarian back by trying to be as tough with Mr Kohl as his rival in Munich.

The result is confusion, strife, and the lowest poll rating for the Chancellor in years.

If elections were held tomorrow, the Social Democrats and Greens would blow Europe's longest-serving leader out of the water.

But elections are a year away, and the Big Three voiced their determination yesterday to put an end to their squabbles and start afresh.

"I hope Saint Benedict will help us to work more and not talk so much," prayed Bernhard Vogel, a Christian Democrat grandee from Thuringia. Amen to that.