Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against the perils of excessive debt as she began campaigning for Germany’s Sept. 22 election, seeking to defend her lead in the polls to clinch a third term.
Addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 in the Hessian city of Seligenstadt yesterday, Merkel embraced a report that the 17-nation euro area had emerged from recession as “good news,” though she said growth must not be based on debt.
“We’ve seen what can happen if you accumulate too much debt,” Merkel said. Higher borrowing costs spur rising interest rates, putting businesses in danger, she said. “Then you have unemployment -- and at that point you have a spiral.”
Struggling to speak above a group of opposition Social Democratic youth protesters blowing whistles and chanting “Merkel out,” the chancellor said her Christian Democrats are the best guardians of Germany’s economy and labor market.
Selling her record of steering Germany through Europe’s debt crisis, reducing the deficit and cutting unemployment to the lowest level since the 1990 German reunification, Merkel warned against SPD plans to increase taxes, mocking the opposition’s efforts at redistribution as “jealousy.”
“I can’t promise that we won’t have more problems, but I can tell you that in the eight years that I’ve been chancellor, we are in great respects doing better than we were then,” Merkel said alongside Hessian premier Volker Bouffier. “I want us to be better positioned in four years than we are today.”
Merkel chose Seligenstadt’s market square, framed by half-timbered houses with a maypole at its center, as her first venue for 56 rallies over the next five and a half weeks. Supporters waved posters that read “Angie,” as the SPD youth group carried a poster reading “Freedom Instead of Surveillance,” alluding to the U.S. spy scandal that the opposition has aimed against Merkel.
Merkel is seeking to preserve her poll lead over the SPD, which has failed to gain ground even as opposition chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck sharpens his political attacks. Support for Merkel’s bloc held at 40 percent in a weekly Forsa poll for Stern magazine and RTL television published yesterday. The SPD had 23 percent, also unchanged, while its Green party ally dropped a percentage point to 13 percent.
With backing for Merkel’s Free Democratic Party coalition partner steady at 5 percent, the poll result would allow the chancellor to continue her current government if replicated at the election, according to Forsa.
The rally in Seligenstadt, which traces its history to the Roman Empire, was the first of almost daily appearances in the run-up to the vote. Steinbrueck is mobilizing a get-out-the-vote effort that will bet on undecided voters turning to the SPD’s message of social justice.
Having had the stage to himself during Merkel’s vacation, Steinbrueck’s approval rating rose in the Forsa poll, with 23 percent of respondents saying they would choose him if they were able to elect the chancellor directly, an increase of 2 points, against 54 percent who said they favored Merkel, down a point.
While the poll suggests that Steinbrueck has won over some SPD voters to his side, the “slight improvement” doesn’t amount to a sustainable trend, Forsa chief Manfred Guellner said in a telephone interview. “Voters have no great sympathy for Steinbrueck,” he said. After revelations of his fees for speaking and comments that the chancellor should be paid more, “many still see him as arrogant and greedy,” Guellner said.
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