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Turmoil for Merkel after minister tries to quit

world Updated: Feb 08, 2009 20:53 IST
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel must quickly get her house in order, after a failed bid by her economy minister to quit in the midst of a crippling recession, business leaders and analysts said on Sunday.

Michael Glos, who has held the post since Merkel took power in 2005, shocked Berlin by offering to step down Saturday, but the leader of his conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) ordered him to stay at his post.

The CSU is the powerful Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). In Germany, the parties in the ruling coalition -- currently comprised of the conservatives and the Social Democrats -- name the ministers.

The head of the CSU parliamentary faction Peter Ramsauer defended Glos, saying the party backed him and that he should stay in office.

"Michael Glos has the full trust of the parliamentary faction and of the party," Ramsauer told Monday's edition of the Main Post newspaper.

Glos is "the right economy minister to cope with this crisis" he said, adding "one doesn't change horses in difficult times".

The upheaval in the government comes seven months before Europe's biggest economy holds a general election and while the country is facing the steepest downturn since World War II.

Merkel, at a security conference in Munich, did not address the crisis in public. But the daily Der Tagesspiegel noted that Glos could not have picked a worse time to try to resign, and its execution could hardly have been more awkward.

"Michael Glos offers to leave at a time when Germany, Europe and the whole world find themselves in the worst economic crisis of the last decades and countless decisions are expected of his ministry that could be decisive for the economic future of the whole country," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"Meanwhile Merkel is leading her party into the election in September long after she lost the upper hand in both the cabinet and the Union," it added, referring to the conservative CDU-CSU alliance.

Glos had been widely criticised for his ineffectual management of the economic crisis, and for repeatedly harping on Merkel to slash taxes to help boost consumer spending and investment despite her vehement refusal.

But when she did an about-face last month, unveiling a 50-billion-euro (66-billion-dollar) stimulus package over two years full of tax relief, Glos could claim little credit.

The 64-year-old minister had offered his resignation Saturday in a letter to CSU leader Horst Seehofer, citing the party's drive to bring in a new generation of leaders after a historic loss in a state election in September.

"Renewal, the ability to set the agenda and credibility are needed now more than ever," Glos reportedly said of the party in the letter.

The developments came as more grim news hit, with the finance ministry predicting the federal deficit would reach 60 billion euros (78 billion dollars) in 2010, compared to 11.5 billion in 2008, Der Spiegel reported.

Adding to Merkel's woes was a blistering attack by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will challenge the chancellor in the September general election, against her response to the global financial crisis.

In an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel magazine, the Social Democrat (SPD) minister -- who is also vice-chancellor -- said Merkel's CDU and their allies were "incapable of finding the right way to face the crisis."

"It is only thanks to the SPD that Ms Merkel, as chancellor, has been able to make the right decisions," Steinmeier said.

The Christian Democrats and the CSU "barely contributed" to the government's economic stimulus plan, said Steinmeier, who up until now had largely refrained from attacking Merkel so as to not upset the delicate balance in the coalition.

The opposition leapt on the chaotic state of affairs in Berlin.

The head of the Greens parliamentary group Renate Kuenast said in a statement that Germany needed an economy minister "who can bring some energy to the job instead of suffering for having it."

And the party whip of the far-left party Die Linke said Glos' offer was "the most dynamic thing he did since taking office in 2005."