German chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck criticized Angela Merkel for misleading voters over the true cost of the European debt crisis, saying he’ll be upfront about the policy decisions needed after fall elections.
Steinbrueck, whose campaign to unseat Merkel on Sept. 22 has been riddled by gaffes and missteps, sought to use the first rally of his campaign to make a virtue out of his reputation for straight talking. Addressing a crowd of about 3,000 in Hamburg today, he contrasted his approach with Merkel’s “lulling” of voters, citing her stances on energy, the economy and on Europe.
“Germany will have to come to Europe’s help and foot the bill if necessary,” the Social Democratic Party challenger told supporters, many eating sausages and drinking beer. “But that’s something Mrs. Merkel won’t tell you. It’s not enough to simply beat other countries over the head with the cudgel of saving; we need growth too.”
Steinbrueck, 66, has little more than six weeks to persuade voters he is better able to steer Europe’s biggest economy than Merkel, 59, as polls show Germans approve of her handling of the crisis. Recent surveys suggest he has begun to whittle down the lead held by Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc. She returns to official engagements on Aug. 13 after her vacation, and is due to hold her first rally the next day in Hesse state.
The SPD challenger, who was Merkel’s first-term finance minister, chose Hamburg, his hometown and the only one of Germany’s 16 states where the SPD has an absolute majority, to try out his new format “Open Air Straight Talking” tour.
Speaking from a podium placed under a circular awning resembling a circus tent without walls, Steinbrueck said the issue of youth unemployment is becoming “explosive” in Europe. Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc has “no idea about money,” her coalition has “the worst ministers since German reunification,” and has reached a “stalemate,” he told the audience in the Michelwiese park.
As chancellor in an SPD coalition with the Greens, Steinbrueck said that he would move quickly to implement a statutory minimum wage and put a brake on labor leasing. Laws would be implemented to ensure equal pay for women, tax dodgers pursued relentlessly, and banking “gambling” subject to control. He’d abolish subsidies introduced this year for parents who raise their children at home and use the money to finance 200,000 new kindergarten places.
More teachers are needed, “and that will cost money,” so nursing care insurance payments will rise by 0.5 percent, he said. “Saying taxes will rise is straight talking,” even if 95 percent of citizens won’t be affected by the increases, Steinbrueck told the crowd.
Harald Zulauf, 47, who listened to the speech, said that he was impressed with Steinbrueck’s ability to speak without notes, though he would have liked to be allowed to ask questions of the candidate. Steinbrueck, he said, “has to look optimistic given the miserable polls.”
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