Social Democrats warn against third term for Merkel

Germany’s Election: Pledges to raise minimum wage but opposition coalition behind in final polls

The crowd watch on as German Social Democrats chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück speaks at a Berlin election rally. Photograph: Getty

The crowd watch on as German Social Democrats chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück speaks at a Berlin election rally. Photograph: Getty

 

Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Peer Steinbrück launched a final election push last night, warning that a victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday meant four more “directionless years” for Germany – and Europe.

Pacing a circular stage on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, Mr Steinbrück made an energetic appeal for a fairer Germany with a statutory minimum wage of €8.50 and tax increases for top earners to fund education and infrastructure investment.

“If you want a statutory minimum wage you have to vote for the SPD, if you want the cavalry saddled against tax fraud, you have to vote for me,” said Mr Steinbrück (66), to an enthusiastic crowd. Voting for Dr Merkel, he said, would reward directionless politics with “labels on empty bottles”.


Divisive personality
“I expect more from a leader than merely raising a finger to test which way the wind’s blowing,” he said. “At least with me you know what you’re getting.”

After months of restraint, Mr Steinbrück has thrown overboard his campaign corset in the final days of campaigning. Letting his prickly and divisive personality shine through, voters are still talking about the newspaper image of him giving his critics the finger.

“Unlike Merkel he tells people what he wants to do and tries to win them over, even for unpopular but necessary things like tax increases,” said Andreas Berger (23).

“He’s witty, ironic and intelligent but it won’t be enough,” said Peter Ebert (71). “I don’t think I’ll live to see another SPD chancellor.”

Two days ahead of Germany’s federal election, things are looking tight for the SPD. It has struggled to grapple with a CDU campaign built around Chancellor Merkel’s personality and message of security.

Polls show their preferred SPD-Green alliance is eight points behind Dr Merkel’s outgoing coalition. Joining forces with the far-left Linke would give a narrow lead, final polls suggested, but Mr Steinbrück has ruled out that option.

He has also refused to enter another Merkel government, though his party is already said to be working on a list of grand coalition demands.

Despite last night’s assured performance and enthusiastic applause, the SPD remains a house divided, unsure in its campaign whether to fight the CDU in the political centre or tackle the resurgent Left Party.

“The trouble is we’re neither centre nor left, neither fish nor fowl,” conceded one leading party strategist.

Mr Steinbrück, an SPD centrist, criticised the party’s dominant leftist camp for disowning decade-old social and economic reforms that had put Germany back on track.


Crisis airbrushed
“Merkel is reaping the benefits of SPD reforms,” he told the Bild tabloid. “We should have stood behind the reforms more, not apologised for them.”

Former SPD chancellor Helmut Schmidt shared that frustration, criticising his party too for allowing Chancellor Merkel airbrush the euro crisis from the election debate.

Mr Schmidt’s criticism exposed the SPD’s other campaign dilemma: how to criticise an EU crisis policy they supported in the Bundestag. Mr Steinbrück only briefly grabbed the euro crisis nettle yesterday.

“I’d like to remind you there were times in the past when we were helped,” he said, warning voters that “pied pipers” pushing a euro exit would damage Germany’s export markets.

With a tight result looming, election analysts say voters are likely to vote for security.

“Voters don’t trust the SPD would do any better leading the country than Merkel,” said Prof Manfred Güllner of the Forsa polling agency.

“There is no mood for a change.”