Chancellor Angela Merkel faced a barrage of criticism from taxpayers and opposition parties yesterday after her government launched an extraordinary €3m advertising campaign boasting that Germany was the country that had "best overcome the global economic crisis".
In what appeared to be an effort to boost her conservative-led coalition's collapsing popularity and calm fears about an impending Irish bailout, the government placed advertisements online and in newspapers in a week-long drive to promote itself. The taxpayer-funded ads feature a photograph of a smiling Ms Merkel. "Thank you dear citizens," the Chancellor writes, "You have made Germany the country that has best overcome the global economic crisis."
Referring to an unexpectedly high, export-driven 3.4 per cent growth rate, she says: "The world looks at our country and is talking of a miracle. I do not believe in miracles, but I do believe in the people of this country – in their ideas and in their good sense".
The campaign, which was launched a day after a self-congratulatory conference of Ms Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party, was criticised by Germany's Federation of Taxpayers as an outrageous waste of money. "I cannot believe the cheek of it," said Karl-Heinz Däke, the group's spokesman.
Politicians from all opposition parties were also quick to criticise the advertisements as an attempt to bolster the image of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats with government money. Volker Beck, the Green Party parliamentary leader was one of many who questioned whether the campaign was legal. "Government advertisement funding is not meant to be used to enhance the image of the Christian Democrats," he said. "This is a waste of taxpayers' money – the €3m should be paid by the Christian Democrats," he added.
But Steffen Seibert, a government spokesman, defended the campaign, insisting "the government has a duty to inform people about what it is doing".
Ms Merkel's coalition has not recovered from the popularity nosedive it took earlier this year when it was seen to have bungled the first round of the euro crisis. Opinion polls have suggested that, if a general election were held tomorrow, her government would almost certainly be beaten by opposition Social Democrats and Greens.
The Chancellor has been struggling to convince a sceptical electorate worried about what effect an Irish bailout will have on their purses. The media have spent the past week portraying Ireland as an economic disaster area.
At the Christian Democrat conference earlier this week, Ms Merkel adopted the visionary approach to the euro once used by the former chancellor Helmut Kohl. She told delegates saving the currency was part of the battle to preserve "peace in Europe."