The Christian Social Union (CSU) remains locked in a bitter row with government coalition partners the Free Democratic Party (FDP), after the Bavarian conservatives rejected Westerwelle's overtures to Turkey.
The dispute between government coalition partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), the latter led by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, escalated Friday when the CSU reiterated its opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
The CSU's declaration came a day after Westerwelle made a speech to Turkish diplomats in Ankara, promising that the German government would consider Turkey's application for EU membership "without prejudice."
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Speaking at a party conference in the Bavarian town of Wildbad Kreuth, leading CSU member Hans-Peter Friedrich said that his party was strongly against Turkey's full membership in the EU, but was ready to offer a "privileged partnership" deal to the country. "That is our opinion, which we're entitled to," Friedrich said. "If Mr. Westerwelle has a different one, then he's entitled to that too."
Westerwelle's response was to call the CSU's objections "small-minded." Speaking in Istanbul on the second day of his first official trip to Turkey, the foreign minister said Germany had a great interest in maintaining good relations with Turkey, partly because of the economic ties between the countries.
Westerwelle estimated that there were around 4,000 German companies represented in Turkey, and that the issue was not one appropriate for "trivial bickering between parties." He said the CSU should "think more about Germany and less about party political interests."
A faulty new start
The barbed exchange was the latest in a series of disputes between the uneasy allies in Germany's new government. Another major sticking point is the ongoing debate on the tax cuts the FDP demanded on coming into government, and which came into force at the beginning of the year.
This public tension has caused considerable damage to the government's popularity ratings, which have sunk dramatically since the general election in September 2009, a new poll revealed on Friday.
Apparently in reaction to the growing instability, a summit of the coalition's three party leaders - the FDP's Westerwelle, CSU leader Horst Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - has been scheduled for January 17. The meeting has been described openly by CDU domestic policy spokesman Wolfgang Bosbach as a "crisis meeting." The coalition partners are set to look for "a new beginning" to settle their differences.
CSU deputy General Secretary Dorothee Baer told news magazine Focus that the honeymoon between the CDU/CSU alliance and the FDP was over: "Two apartments have been equipped. There are two toasters, two fitted kitchens, two cupboards. But the styles don't match and they need to be cleared out."
But government spokesman Christoph Steegmans insisted Friday that Merkel remained very positive about how the new government was working together, and denied that the planned summit was an attempt at a new beginning. Steegmans said it was "the most normal thing in the world" that the party leaders should meet on a regular basis.
Opposition field day
Opposition parties have leapt on the government's troubles. Andrea Nahles, General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), accused Merkel of presiding over a "complete false start," and added that there were more conflicts within the new government than the previous one - a grand coalition of the CDU and SPD.
Green party leader Renate Kuenast looked back even further to the government before that - a coalition of the SPD and the Greens presided over by Chanceller Gerhard Schroeder: "The SPD/Green coalition was never a chaos combo like this," she told the daily Bild newspaper. "There's no plan for new jobs through renewable energy, no education improvements - instead we get abstruse tax promises and gifts for hoteliers and rich heirs."