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Europe's Centre-Right Faces Crisis

Gerrit Wiesmann HKSCKPVIamp; Quentin Peel, Financial Times
Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011 | 12:41 AM ET

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has blamed Japan’s nuclear crisis, triggered by this month’s earthquake, for the “very painful defeat” suffered by her ruling party in the state of Baden-Württemberg.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
John MacDougall | AFP | Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Some centre-right figures urged Ms Merkel to “draw the consequences” and change her centralized way of governing after Sunday’s defeat.

Ms Merkel’s electoral setback means that the leaders of the euro zone’s three largest economies have seen their political authority seriously undermined.

In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, president, is also facing a backlash from within his own party and increasing doubts about whether he can win re-election next year after suffering a heavy defeat in local departmental elections on Sunday.

Silvio Berlusconi’s legal woes were underlined when the Italian premier returned to court for the first time in eight years in connection with tax fraud and embezzlement charges.

Ms Merkel shrugged off criticism and attributed her defeat to events elsewhere, insisting “Japan means we cannot simply stick to business as usual”.

“The pain from this [electoral] loss will not go away in one day,” she said at a somber press conference in Berlin on Monday.

The ruling coalition in Berlin of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the liberal Free Democrats has signaled its determination to move away from the use of atomic energy after its policies were rejected by the voters of Baden-Württemberg in favor of an anti-nuclear coalition of the Green party and the Social Democrats.

Ms Merkel said Germany now needed a “totally different concept” for nuclear energy in the wake of the election setback, which saw the centre-right coalition partners fall four seats short of their centre-left rivals in a conservative state that has been ruled by the CDU for almost six decades.

Ms Merkel rejected criticism from within her own party that other government policies were also responsible for the defeat, insisting that there would be no reshuffle of her cabinet in the wake of the stinging defeat.

However, Guido Westerwelle, foreign minister and the leader of the FDP, admitted that the Japanese earthquake alone was not responsible for his party’s poor showing.

“There is nothing to gloss over,” he said. “We got a black eye. Nuclear energy played a special role in these elections. But we must be self-critical. If we liberals had been in better form, this catastrophe in Japan would not have affected us so badly.”

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