In Germany, Green wave troubles Merkel

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Europe Correspondent   |   March 28, 2011 at 1:14 PM
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BERLIN, March 28 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives lost power in the key state of Baden Wuerttemberg for the first time since the 1950s, a defeat that could spell trouble for her center-right national government.

A day after approximately 200,000 Germans took the streets across the country to protest against nuclear power, the Green Party Sunday rose to win 24.2 percent of the vote in Baden-Wuerttemberg, more than doubling its result from the past election.

Together with the center-left Social Democrats, who took 23.1 percent, the anti-nuclear Greens will snatch the state from Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union for the first time since 1953.

While Merkel's conservatives managed to remain the strongest party in the conservative stronghold -- they got 39 percent of the vote -- they can't form a government because the pro-business Free Democrats, their coalition partner in Berlin and the party that has been among the strongest backers of nuclear power, dropped to an abysmal 5.3 percent.

Merkel Monday faced her party colleagues and the media in Berlin sporting a red blazer and a stern face. The outcome of Sunday's election in Baden-Wuerttemberg was "very painful," she admitted, adding that she would re-think her energy policy.

Mass daily Bild, the nation's most widely read newspaper, said Merkel is set to be damaged by the election result "because strength in the southwest of Germany has always been a precondition for national election victories."

While the next federal elections are two years away, her coalition faces an increasingly uphill battle to keep supporters happy.

Ahead of the elections, Merkel had tried to turn the tide in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

As the West was rounding up an international coalition to intervene in Libya, Germany sided with China and Russia to abstain in a U.N. Security Council vote to send troops there. Analysts said the move was a nod to the anxiety among Germans over military engagements.

A few days earlier, at the height of the Japanese nuclear crisis, she decided to temporarily shut down seven of the country's oldest nuclear power reactors to test their safety and vowed to rethink Germany's overall energy strategy. It came just a few months after she had agreed, against severe public opposition, to extend the running times of the 17 reactors in Germany by an average of 12 years.

The press, the opposition and, apparently, voters didn't feel those moves were sincere. Even party colleagues criticized Merkel for what they suggested was chaotic leadership.

When it surfaced that Merkel's Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle last week told industry leaders that her nuclear decision was but a mere tactical maneuver, the outlook for the conservatives dropped even further.

The Greens, a party founded in 1980 on peace and anti-nuclear policies, emerged the big winner in Baden-Wuerttemberg, a state that is among Germany's economic powerhouses. The opposition has vowed to up the pressure on Berlin.

"The chancellor must not make tricks anymore," said Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the Social Democrats. "We need a real energy turnaround now."

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