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Merkel starts second term under fire

Oct. 29, 2009 at 3:49 PM   |   Comments

BERLIN, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Angela Merkel begins her second term as German chancellor as criticism over her policies is mounting.

Merkel flew to Paris Wednesday for talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, just hours after she was sworn in as chancellor.

The day had started with mixed feelings for Merkel, when nine of the 332 government lawmakers refused to support their leader in the secret ballot. Two government lawmakers failed to show up. Merkel nevertheless cruised to an expected victory in what really was a formality election, receiving 323 votes, 11 more than the majority needed.

Opposition leaders were still angry at Merkel for leaving Berlin without presenting her government plans to Parliament. After her stop in Paris the chancellor Thursday continued on to Brussels for an EU summit where leaders will discuss who could become the new European Council president.

Merkel has initially backed Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, but media reports in Germany say she might be willing to support former British Prime Minister Tony Blair if a German gets the EU's top foreign policy brief. The dinner discussion Merkel had with Sarkozy likely circled around those questions.

Merkel is due to arrive next week in Washington, where she will address the U.S. Congress.

Her first government address in the Bundestag as chancellor won't take place until Nov. 10, she said. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her former foreign minister who now leads the opposition, said he was "astonished and shocked" by the decision to have Germany's parliamentarians waiting.

Her address to the Congress is the first for a German chancellor since Konrad Adenauer gave a speech there in 1957. The opposition says Merkel is simply fleeing the criticism sparked by her economic policies.

Merkel and her Cabinet have decided to press ahead with tax cuts worth $35 billion per year -- never mind a record deficit that will likely surge above $130 billion in 2010. Berlin says only further tax relief can fuel the recovery of Europe's largest economy. Merkel argues that fiscal prudence now will result in much higher costs later on.

Yet Germany's Federal President Horst Koehler, a member of Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union, urged the new government to start reducing debt as soon as possible.

And even abroad, criticism is mounting: "The consolidation elements are under-represented in the coalition agreement and there is an excessive focus on expansionary measures," Juncker, the leader from Luxembourg who also heads the 16-country Eurogroup of finance ministers, told German business daily Handelsblatt.

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