Merkel Challenger Says Minimum Wage Could Be Reprieve for Crisis

German Social Democratic chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck said an across-the-board minimum wage would pump money into the economy and alleviate imbalances in the euro area that contributed to the debt crisis.

Should he defeat Chancellor Angela Merkel in the September election, Steinbrueck said an SPD coalition with the Green Party would push through a German minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11) an hour starting Feb. 1, 2014. The extra purchasing power among low-wage earners could contribute 19 billion euros to the economy, generating demand that would offset declining wages in more indebted countries, he said.

“The argument is that Germany has a record-high balance-of-payments surplus, and that’s true,” Steinbrueck said today in Berlin alongside Green candidate Katrin Goering-Eckardt. Germany’s surplus is “sensationally high,” he said.

Establishing a minimum wage is a central SPD pledge in the election campaign in Germany, one of seven countries in the 28-member European Union that doesn’t have a statutory limit. Merkel says an across-the-board wage would risk jobs. Her party favors setting up a patchwork of wage limits across industries.

Steinbrueck contrasted wage restraint among German unions over the past decade, a factor that he said resulted in “very moderate increases,” with rising pre-crisis wages and labor costs in southern European nations. The resulting imbalances were laid bare as the global financial crisis swept across Europe, helping trigger the region’s debt crisis.

Germany’s SPD has struggled to gain ground on Merkel with its campaign of more social justice in Europe’s largest economy, including a top income-tax increase to 49 percent. The SPD and Greens together polled at 37 percent in a Forsa poll published yesterday, compared with 46 percent for Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their Free Democratic coalition allies.

With 85 days left before the election, Steinbrueck said the SPD will rely on a get-out-the-vote operation targeting disaffected voters in the final weeks of the election. The candidate said he plans to unveil next month a detailed program on what his government would do in its first 100 days in office.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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