Merkel election manifesto a ‘fiscal fairytale’

German chancellor’s promise of billions in new welfare spending criticised

German chancellor  Angela Merkel speaks at a summit of the CDU and the CSU to present their election policy programme. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a summit of the CDU and the CSU to present their election policy programme. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Tue, Jun 25, 2013, 01:17

While demanding savings and reform around Europe, German chancellor Angela Merkel has launched her campaign for a third term with a manifesto promising voters billions of euro in new welfare spending.

The Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) programme, drafted with their Bavarian allies (CSU) and a clear political pitch for Germany’s political centre, and has been criticised as a “fiscal fairytale” by the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Even Dr Merkel’s struggling junior partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), have criticised the chancellor and CDU leader for promising German voters wine while forcing austerity water on European partners.

FDP leader Philipp Rösler complained that Dr Merkel and her party had been “led astray by the sweet poison of spending money”.

The 125-page programme contains a series of financial promises – from higher pensions (estimated annual cost: €6.5 billion) and children’s allowance (€7.5 billion) to an extra €5 billion in infrastructural spending.

‘What parties promise’
At the launch of the manifesto, Dr Merkel remained characteristically cool towards her critics. “We want what’s best for Germany,” she said. A senior CDU figure was more frank. Challenged at the apparent lack of financing for proposals, the figure retorted that manifestos “are what parties promise to get elected”.

Reading the manifesto, opposition Social Democrats (SPD) have discovered several of their own political proposals, such as a promise to introduce a cap on spiralling rents in major German cities.

Despite this political flattery, SPD challenger Peer Steinbrück described the manifesto as “platitudes and empty promises”.

“There are no proposals on how to finance these crazy promises,” he said.

Criticisms of uncosted proposals are unlikely to faze the CDU leader, analysts suggest, because the CDU manifesto is just a political fig leaf for a party that has been largely emptied of political content.

‘Manifesto vagueness’
“The CDU’s manifesto is ‘Angela Merkel’,” said Richard Hillmer, head of the Infratest/Dimap polling agency. “She stands for a successful chancellorship and enjoys considerable popularity, including far beyond CDU voters. The CDU can thus afford a certain manifesto vagueness.”

The influential Bild daily agreed, saying the manifesto had a definite SPD/Green tinge, with no promise of overdue reform of Germany’s tax and health systems.

“The programme could, in essence, be boiled down to three points: ‘1: Merkel. 2: More of the same. 3: More of the same with Merkel.”

On European policy, the manifesto says the CDU “stands for a continued reduction in new borrowing and strict adherence to national debt brakes”.

Public debt
While German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble is aiming to present a balanced federal budget by next year, Germany’s total public debt has risen from €1.768 trillion to €2.166 trillion in Dr Merkel’s second term.

On euro crisis policy, the CDU promised to oppose a pan-European deposit insurance scheme for banks. It favours “further steps to deepened military co-operation in Europe . . . for example, through the pooling and common use of previously national military competencies. In the long term, we aspire to a European army.”