Greek instability threatens to topple Merkel's government

Growing opposition from the German public to a planned bailout of Greece is jeopardising Angela Merkel's chances in a key state election next week and could ultimately undermine the stability of her coalition government.

The country's most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia goes to the polls on 9 May. At the moment, the conservative Chancellor's Christian Democrats are in government with the liberal Free Democrats in North Rhine Westphalia in a coalition which mirrors Ms Merkel's federal government. But they are facing a stiff challenge from a possible coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.

With less than a fortnight to go before the ballot, opinion polls in the state put the two political groupings either neck and neck or with leads so small as to make any accurate prediction of the outcome impossible.

And it is not just Mrs Merkel's opponents giving her a headache. The Greek bailout has also ignited an untimely political row within the ruling coalition – at both state and national level.

Andreas Pinkwart, North Rhine Westphalia's liberal leader, has been publicly asking why Greece should be offered billions – Germany is expected to stump up an estimated €8.4bn (£7.3bn), by far the largest European Union slice – while Germans are being denied tax cuts.

Guido Westerwelle, her Foreign Minister and the national head of Free Democrats, has insisted that Greece only be given aid if the IMF and the EU deem that its debt poses a direct threat to the euro's existence.

And the Bavarian wing of Ms Merkel's conservatives has demanded that Greece be ejected from the eurozone.

As the countdown to the vote begins, the German leader will be acutely away of North Rhine Westphalia's reputation for making or breaking governments. Her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, called an early general election after his ruling Social Democrats were trounced in the state in 2005. Four months later he was ousted by Ms Merkel.

The problem for Ms Merkel is that if she loses on 9 May, her coalition parties will automatically forfeit their majority in Germany's upper house, the Bundesrat. The chances of her government effectively implementing its plans to reform the economy, introduce tax cuts and encourage growth would be seriously undermined as a result.

She would then face the choice of continuing as the head of a lame duck government or calling an early general election.

Until only last week Ms Merkel had assumed that she had bought herself some political breathing space back home after last month's EU summit. She had conveyed the impression that Greece would only be given access to a joint IMF and EU rescue package if Athens introduced a whole series of Draconian belt-tightening measures.

Although Ms Merkel was criticised by some European leaders for being the first German conservative leader to break with her party's consensus of solidarity, at home she was hailed as "Maggie Merkel" for taking an uncharacteristically tough Thatcherite stance and standing up for German interests.

However, the Greek government's weekend demand for urgent help from the International Monetary Fund in the face of plunging investor confidence, has torpedoed Ms Merkel's hopes of being able to put off the problem until 10 May. Yesterday's downgrading of Greece's credit rating to junk status only served to highlight how the Athens crisis is spiralling out of control. Every day the Greek bailout can be delayed might help alleviate the political pressure on Ms Merkel but it risks ramping up the economic pressure.

It is perhaps a risk the German leader considers worth taking, especially given an opinion poll released yesterday by the Ifratest Dimap group showed that at least two thirds of Germans were opposed to the bailout.

Germany's mass circulation Bild newspaper claimed that a poll of its readers showed that at least 80 per cent rejected the idea.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there