Bid to unseat Merkel gaining momentum - Steinbrück

Opposition candidate in Germany’s election unveils plans to reduce gap between rich and poor


Social Democrat (SPD) election hopeful Peer Steinbrück has promised swift action to close the growing gap between rich and poor in Germany if he unseats chancellor Angela Merkel in next month’s general election.

A feisty Mr Steinbrück promised tax hikes for top earners and a statutory minimum wage of €8.50 within his first 100 days in office in the hope of winning over enough undecided voters to close a 19-point opinion poll gap with Dr Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU).

“Just you wait, the election is only starting,” said Mr Steinbrück to journalists in Berlin on Thursday. “My election rallies are more interesting, it’s really rocking with us.”

Under an SPD-lead coalition Germans earning €100,000 would face a seven-point hike in their tax bill to 49 per cent while a promised minimum wage would, he said, would stimulate consumer demand. It would ease pressure on the welfare system too, he said, by ending a practice whereby low-earners are often forced to top up their wages to match welfare levels.

Dr Merkel’s CDU opposes a statutory minimum wage, preferring flexible sector-based agreements, and says tax hikes would strangle the economy. The SPD hopes its “bread-and-butter” pitch will win back traditional SPD centre-left voters who have drifted away from the party in recent years.

A limit on rent increases is promised, more liberal dual citizenship laws and regulations to close the pay gap between men and women as well as companies’ contract and permanent staff. On the European front, the SPD promises swift agreement with its neighbours on the terms of a so-called banking union, including EU-wide financial supervision and new powers to wind up failing banks.

Mr Steinbrück accused the Merkel administration of “filibustering and delaying” for claiming the proposed rules would require time-consuming changes to EU treaties. On Greece, however, Mr Steinbrück said he “shared the reluctance” of Ms Merkel to consider a second debt write-down because it would spook investors and burden European taxpayers still further.

The straight-talking Mr Steinbrück, finance minister in chancellor Merkel’s first government, said he would use Sunday’s televised debate between the two to highlight her “politics of the obscure” on domestic and European policy “Her key sentence is, ‘I’ll wait and see’,” he said. “I won’t. It won’t be dull with me as I’m not the man for the round-about. That can make it arduous at times, but it’s more clear for voters.”