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Teflon Angie too strong to be toppled

Angela Merkel faces further battles over the eurozone, but she is unlikely to be unseated as chancellor just yet

What a difference a day makes. On Wednesday, Angela Merkel was on the ropes, begging MPs from her coalition to see sense and vote with the government to ratify the expansion of the euro bailout fund.

Twenty four hours later, the 57-year-old chancellor was grinning from ear to ear, surrounded by her loyal subordinates in the Bundestag’s plenary chamber. She had done it: passed the bill without needing the opposition to make up numbers.

Sure, 10 MPs from her own parliamentary bloc rebelled; so too did five from the Free Democratic Party (FDP), her pesky coalition partners. But in the circumstances, this was definitely a feather in her cap. Earlier in the month 25 of her flock had threatened to revolt. With a parliamentary majority of just 19, it could have been a disaster.

Outside the Berlin parliament after the vote, one of the chancellor’s most loyal foot soldiers declared the result a triumph.

“It was a strong statement of Angela Merkel’s position. She has the backing and the support of the coalition and she is able to negotiate on the European level,” said Peter Altmeier, a whip for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party (CDU).

But analysts believed it would be a short-lived success. “It’s certainly a boost, but only in the context that the alternative would have been terrible for her,” said Anke Hassel, professor of public policy at the Hertie school of governance in Berlin. “If she had failed to rally her own MPs, the opposition would have started to make demands of her in return for future votes.”

Plus, said Hassel, Merkel’s majority was perilously “tiny”. Worse, “the main opposition comes from within her own party.”

Thursday’s vote is just one of many hurdles Merkel will have to clear in the coming weeks and months. Later this autumn, MPs will vote on the second bailout package for Greece, worth €109bn. And next year the German parliament will be asked to ratify the European Stability Mechanism, the permanent rescue fund that will replace the temporary EFSF in 2013. Calls for the bailout fund to grow to €2tn are only likely to get louder, too.

With 76% of Germans said to be against any further bailouts, a bumpy ride is ahead.

“Teflon Angie” might have been able to win over a few renegades this time, but with so much unhappiness in her coalition she cannot be guaranteed success at the next ballot. Particularly, said Stern columnist Lutz Kinkel, because “many of the shilly-shalliers, the fusspots, the doubters, don’t actually believe in Merkel’s strategy. They voted yes while holding their noses because their main concern is keeping the coalition intact – and keeping their jobs.”

But few Bundestag watchers doubt that Merkel will still be in place come autumn 2013, when she will have to call a general election. “There is no one in her party who could replace her at the moment – no one is strong enough,” said Hassel. “Her opposition is too weak.” © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds