SPD tries to keep poll lead with promises on tax cuts and welfare

 

Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD) attempted yesterday to consolidate their opinion poll lead over a promise by the Chancellor, Dr Helmut Kohl, and his Christian Democrats (CDU) by promising to cut income tax and reverse social welfare cuts within their first 100 days in power. But business leaders threw cold water on the plan, warning that it could wreck Germany's economic recovery.

The Social Democrats' candidate for chancellor in next month's election, Mr Gerhard Schroder, will unveil the 100-day plan in Berlin on Thursday. But the party chairman, Mr Oskar Lafontaine, revealed some details yesterday, including a pledge to undo Dr Kohl's reform of the pension system and to increase income tax allowances.

Dr Kohl has been trailing Mr Schroder in opinion polls since the beginning of this year but some polls last week showed the gap between their parties narrowing to just 3 per cent.

Mr Lafontaine dismissed Dr Kohl's claim that Germany's improved economic confidence would persuade voters to return him for a record fifth term in office.

"The auto-suggestion of the chancellor is shattered by reality. The people just don't want him any more," he said.

The hostile response of the business community to the SPD plan is a blow to the party's attempt to woo floating voters with a pragmatic, non-ideological message. Mr Schroder has been playing up suggestions that the election on September 27th could produce a grand coalition of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.

Dr Kohl has ruled out such an alliance, which he claims is a distraction from the real choice before voters - between the present government and a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.

Dr Kohl's strategy is to claim credit for the economic recovery while attempting to frighten voters away from Mr Schroder and his allies. The SPD candidate yesterday repeated his warning to supporters not to underestimate the chancellor, who has not lost an election for almost two decades.

Dr Kohl's greatest difficulty is the collapse in support for his party in the east of the country, where gratitude for unification won him his last two elections.

Mr Manfred Guellner, director of the Forsa polling institute, believes that the chancellor may have underestimated the difference between voters in east and west.

"Western voters may know politicians cannot be held to their word, but easterners believed every promise. That's why there is so much frustration with Kohl now in the east," he said.

Reuters reports from Berlin:

A leading representative of Germany's Jewish community has called for an end to delays over a proposed Holocaust memorial in central Berlin.

The chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Mr Ignatz Bubis, said a decision on the memorial was being stalled by what he called flimsy arguments.

The memorial has the full backing of Dr Kohl but Mr Schroder has said Germany does not need the monument, and the project has been rejected by the Mayor of Berlin, Mr Eberhard Diepgen.

Last month, the SPD spokesman, Mr Michael Naumann, said: "The real memorials in Germany are the concentration camps, are Dachau and Bergen-Belsen . . . where people can remember and reflect and perhaps experience their personal shame."