The German government led by Angela Merkel is facing urgent calls from the country’s normally reticent business community for a return to “rational and reliable” economic policies, in a sign of its disenchantment with the centre-right coalition.
Ms Merkel’s decision to temporarily close seven nuclear power stations in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis has triggered an outpouring of criticism from business lobbies and individual entrepreneurs.
Some of the most outspoken critics have also attacked the government’s failure to deliver on its promised tax reforms and condemned Berlin’s agreement to support a permanent rescue fund for debt-laden euro zone members.
The criticism has reached a crescendo since the stinging weekend election defeat suffered by Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, and its coalition partner, the liberal Free Democratic party, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, a heartland of Germany’s export industry.
Dieter Hundt, president of the German employers’ federation (BDA), appealed for “politicians to return to good sense, rationality and reliability”.
He condemned the moratorium on extending the life of Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations as “a big mistake”. It failed to stop an anti-nuclear backlash among voters in Baden-Württemberg, who returned a “green-red” coalition of the environmentalist Green party and the centre-left Social Democratic party.
“The economic situation in our country demands a political leadership that is capable of acting,” Mr Hundt said.
Hans-Peter Keitel, president of the Federation of German Industry, warned in Stern magazine that Germany must “take incredible care not to destroy our economic success in the debate about nuclear energy.
“Electricity in Germany must be safe, clean and affordable, or we will endanger the very foundation of our prosperity.”
In a sarcastic reference to the call by Norbert Röttgen, the environment minister and a deputy leader of the CDU, for Germany to phase out nuclear energy as fast as possible, he said: “It would be better not to announce conclusions at the start, but to use the time [of the nuclear moratorium] to work out a viable energy concept.”
If taxes were raised to pay for a switch to renewable energy, “the very manufacturing industry that has just hauled Germany out of the crisis would be strangled”, he added.
Although concerns at the cost of a sudden exit from nuclear power appear to have triggered the criticism, the unhappiness with Ms Merkel’s government seems to be more widespread.
“Many entrepreneurs are very disappointed with this government because they expected a much better business policy,” Marie-Christine Ostermann, head of the Young Entrepreneurs’ federation, told the Financial Times. “Step by step I get the impression that the government is lacking any sense of direction.”
She said the CDU-FDP coalition had promised tax reforms, and even cuts, but none had been delivered. She also criticized the government’s debate on fixing a “quota for women” on company boards, as well as Ms Merkel’s agreement to pay 22 billion euros to Brussels’ euro zone stabilization fund.
“The chancellor said the rescue fund would be temporary, but now suddenly it is permanent,” Ms Ostermann added.
Patrick Adenauer, president of the Family Enterprise Association – and a grandson of Konrad Adenauer, Germany’s first post-war chancellor and the CDU’s founder – said many businessmen had lost their political home.
The CDU had “lost its mystique” as the party with the best business policies. The disappointment was “immense”.