Opposition promises to tame German capitalism


Germany’s opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) presented a united front yesterday to back Peer Steinbrück as the man to unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel next year.

Elected with 93.5 per cent support, Mr Steinbrück promised voters, in return for their backing in September’s election, a “new social balance” to “tame capitalism” and prevent German society drifting apart.

Mr Steinbrück, known for his sharp tongue, promised to end what he called the “patronising” tone Germany had adopted towards its European neighbours under Dr Merkel.

“Nobody is against a strong Germany but many are opposed to a strong Germany that uses its political weight to push through agreements with which other, weaker countries cannot live,” said the 65-year-old politician.

“That is the current state of affairs, this damages and divides Europe and . . . Dr Merkel has isolated Germany in Europe.”


Yesterday’s revival of the SPD’s social justice mantle was an effort to restart a campaign that got off to a bumpy start when Mr Steinbrück admitted earning €1.25 million from public speaking engagements since 2009. This revelation hardened suspicions in the SPD’s resurgent left wing that he was too close to big business for their taste and too fervent a supporter of decade-old social reforms.

To overcome doubt and reach out to left-wingers critical of those reforms, Mr Steinbrück’s programme plays down past reforms and emphasises future centre-left promises.

If elected, Mr Steinbrück has vowed to introduce a minimum wage of €8.50 and a new tax rate of 49 per cent, using the extra income to fund education and infrastructure projects.

Also promised are generous reforms of the pension, health and old-age care systems.

On European affairs, Mr Steinbrück faces a sizeable challenge if he is to attack Dr Merkel’s crisis strategy, which he helped shape as her first finance minister and which his party has backed from the opposition benches since 2009.

Social rebalancing

His European remarks were light on anything concrete he would do differently to Dr Merkel. Noticeably absent were any promises to rebalance European austerity measures with additional measures to boost growth – a demand of the SPD’s Socialist allies in France.

Instead he is focusing on a domestic “social rebalancing” programme, to steal back centrist Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voters disappointed at the “hollowing out” of the party into a “machine for retaining power”.

The CDU utters “popcorn sentences of a lot of air but not much substance”, said Mr Steinbrück, with the Merkel chancellorship its only remaining characteristic. “I can see no convictions or consequential positions besides this,” he said.

Analysts say another grand coalition with Dr Merkel is the most likely outcome, but Mr Steinbrück insists he will not join such a government.