Merkel’s election intervention causes uproar in German parliament

Outgoing chancellor uses final address to promote Laschet as her successor

Angela Merkel  warned voters on Tuesday that backing the SPD in the upcoming election could lead to a coalition with the Green Party and the post-communist Linke. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP via Getty Images

Angela Merkel warned voters on Tuesday that backing the SPD in the upcoming election could lead to a coalition with the Green Party and the post-communist Linke. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP via Getty Images

 

With alarm bells ringing in Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), chancellor Angela Merkel triggered uproar in her final Bundestag address with an electoral intervention for her party – and Armin Laschet as her successor.

Minutes earlier, a new poll by the Forsa agency for RTL television indicated a historic defeat looming for Laschet and his Christian Democratic Union (CDU), now with just 19 per cent support.

If repeated on September 26th, that would be the worst-ever result for the centre-right party that has headed postwar (West) German governments for all but 20 years since 1949. This election’s frontrunner is the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), on 25 per cent, led by federal finance minister Olaf Scholz.

On Tuesday, Merkel pointed out that her departure had created a novel situation in the looming poll: no incumbent chancellor running for re-election.

“It is also a special election because it is a decision on the direction of our country in difficult times – and it is not irrelevant who governs this country,” she said, before warning voters that backing the SPD could lead to a coalition with the Green Party and the post-communist Linke.

A government led by Laschet, she said, by comparison “would stand for stability, reliability, moderation and the centre”– amid a hail of heckling about her party political intervention.

“My word what a fuss,” she said with mock annoyance. “I’ve been a member of this German parliament for over 30 years and I don’t know where, if not here, in the heart of our democracy, to discuss these things.”

Howls of protest

Her remarks sparked howls of protest from the opposition benches, where MPs accused her of an abuse of her office; after four terms and with retirement looming, Merkel clearly couldn’t have cared less.

With the election gloves off, the normally sedate Bundestag – in its final sitting – became a free-for-fall more reminiscent of the House of Commons.

With Merkel departing her role as chancellor, Scholz stepped swiftly into the gap. On the campaign trail he has mimicked and adapted Merkel’s trademark low-key and unflappable style. On Tuesday he took his Merkel tribute act into the Bundestag, using the podium for a stump speech that – in an attempt to counter CDU warnings – promised a centrist political style with some social justice flourishes.

A Scholz administration would ensure the German economy would grow its way back to normal, he said. Instead of tax cuts for top earners, proposed by the centre-right, he promised new legislation to expedite home-building, pause rent increases and boost earnings – particularly of key workers such as carers, nurses and supermarket staff.

“Them and many others were applauded – rightly – in the crisis . . . but it’s not on if these people who get applause continue to be paid badly,” he said. 

A day after visiting President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Scholz promised a different, more proactive approach on Europe. It was time Germany moved away from “standing on the sidelines making bad-tempered comments on others’ plans” – a nod to the Merkel era – and instead became a “country that feels responsible for our joint progress”.

Throttled

It’s no secret that Macron believes his EU reform ambition has been throttled by the outgoing chancellor – and informed sources suggest he would welcome a Chancellor Scholz. To avoid playing favourites, however, Macron will on Wednesday receive Laschet.

A day out in Paris will be a break from the glum poll news for the CDU candidate: if Germans could elect their chancellor directly, the RTL poll indicated just nine per cent of voters would choose Laschet.

With his CDU below 20 per cent for the first time ever in a German opinion poll, Laschet used his Bundestag address to warn how a Scholz-led coalition, “without the CDU in power . . . will run up debt and increase taxes”.

Some 16 years ago the first Merkel-led CDU/SPD grand coalition came to power with a whopping two-thirds majority. As the curtain fell with little fanfare on Tuesday, the RTL poll showed Germany’s third grand coalition since then is leaving office without even a simple parliamentary majority. 

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