Merkel and eurosceptic allies beaten in Berlin
Sep 18, 2011, 11:09 a.m.
By Erik Kirschbaum and Stephen Brown
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's Social Democrats beat Angela Merkel's conservatives in a regional vote in Berlin on Sunday, handing the chancellor her sixth election defeat this year ahead of a key euro zone vote in parliament in two weeks' time.
Merkel's center-right coalition suffered a further setback when their junior coalition partners at the national level, the Free Democrats (FDP), failed to clear the five percent threshold needed to win seats -- for the fifth time this year.
The beleaguered FDP, which had attempted to attract voters in Berlin with its increasingly euro-skeptic tactics, plunged to 2 percent from 7.6 percent in 2006, exit polls showed.
Their eroding support nationwide could destabilize Merkel's center-right coalition, analysts said.
Merkel, under fire for her hesitant leadership in the euro zone crisis, is halfway through a four-year term. But election setbacks for her CDU have hurt her standing before the vote on euro zone measures in parliament on September 29.
"We would be wise to show humility about this result," said a visibly stunned FDP deputy party leader, Christian Lindner. "It's a low-point but also a wake up call. We knew it was going to be a difficult year and that's been dramatically confirmed."
The SPD won 29.5 percent of the vote in Berlin, down from 30.8 percent in 2006 in Germany's largest city with 3.4 million inhabitants, according to an exit poll on ARD television.
SPD Mayor Klaus Wowereit appeared to be headed for a third five-year term, with the Greens as his most likely coalition partner.
"The best part of the result tonight is that the voters showed the FDP they won't get anywhere with populist attacks against Europe," said SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, celebrating his center-left party's sixth win in seven regional votes this year.
"It shows the voters are smarter than the FDP campaign strategists and that you can't win an election by campaigning against Europe. The FDP tried that and failed."
EUROSCEPTIC MESSAGE FAILS
The CDU won 23.5 percent, up slightly from 21.3 percent in 2006 but well below the 40 percent the party used to win in Berlin in the 1980s and 1990s. The Greens won 18 percent, up from 13.1 percent in 2006, and the Left party fell to 11.5 percent from 13.4 percent.
The SPD and Greens have pledged support for boosting the euro zone bailout fund for countries like Greece in a crucial vote in parliament vote on September 29, when Merkel may face a revolt from more eurosceptic members of her coalition.
Greens leader Cem Oezdemir said the FDP had "tried to turn this election into an anti-European plebiscite" after its party leader, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler, said it should not be taboo to debate an "orderly" Greek debt default.
"Losing the election with 2 percent is a dramatic setback for the FDP and I hope they draw the right lessons," Oezdemir said. "Anti-European populism has no support in Europe and in Germany, thank goodness, and that's good news for our country."