Wolfgang Schaeuble, the 70-year-old German finance minister, negotiated his country’s post-Cold War reunification and has served in five cabinets under two chancellors. He’s fighting for four more years.
“People sometimes see me as one of the older politicians, but I still count myself among the young, hopeful CDU politicians,” Schaeuble, a wheelchair user who will turn 71 four days before Germany’s Sept. 22 election, said during a campaign rally in the western town of Guetersloh yesterday.
Schaeuble, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s key minister throughout the debt crisis that emerged in Greece in 2009 at the start of her second term, is throwing himself into campaigning to try and win her a third. Schaeuble is “hungry for action” and keen to remain in his post, Volker Kauder, parliamentary caucus leader of Merkel’s bloc, said in an Aug. 13 interview.
As Merkel heads south to Bavaria today for two rallies in Erlangen and in Dachau, her Social Democratic challenger and first-term finance minister, Peer Steinbrueck, is set to campaign in western Germany with former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Schaeuble, who is scheduled to make more than 30 appearances in the five weeks to the election, will hold four rallies alone today in and around the port city of Hamburg.
“Schaeuble is a pure political animal,” Fredrik Erixon, the director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said in a telephone interview. “If there ever was something in politics called an animal spirit, then Schaeuble embodies it.”
Germany’s second-favourite politician after Merkel, according to an FG Wahlen poll released on Aug. 16, Schaeuble is deploying his credibility with voters to try and secure a repeat of the current coalition between his and Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc with the Free Democratic Party. His campaign message so far is that the coalition has delivered on the economy, yet voters mustn’t take a continuation for granted.
The election’s “on a knife’s edge” and it’s a “dangerous calculation” to think that Merkel has already won, Schaeuble told a rally today in the northern town of Ahrensburg. “Every vote counts.”
Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, dropped one percentage point to 40 percent in a weekly Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Aug. 18. The Free Democrats gained a point to 6 percent, a result that would probably allow a repeat of the government if replicated on Election Day.
Steinbrueck’s SPD lost a point to 24 percent and its Green party ally was also down a point at 12 percent. The Left Party was unchanged at 8 percent. Emnid polled 1,883 voters on Aug. 8-14. No margin of error was given.
“Just like Merkel, Schaeuble radiates competence and assurance,” Peter Matuschek, head of politics at pollster Forsa, said by telephone. “He’s a strong campaigner” and “represents continuity and experience in relation to the euro-area crisis.”
Schaeuble, who was Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s chief of staff and then interior minister, has been partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair since he was shot by a deranged assailant at a campaign rally in 1990.
Yesterday, in his first official appearance after returning from summer vacation, Schaeuble pitched into the campaign that will determine who runs Europe’s biggest economy. His message mixed hope and economic achievement with warnings about the uncertainty that would come with a change of German government.
Officials are “on the right path” to resolving the euro area’s woes, he said yesterday, citing the lower yields on Italian and Spanish bonds as evidence that financial markets “believe the euro will remain stable.”
“I’m not saying that the problems are resolved,” he said. “Only that we have to stay on this path,” ensuring that Europe becomes more competitive. “We don’t want a German Europe, but rather a strong Europe.”
Saying the government “has kept its word” on the economy, he contrasted the Merkel administration’s action on financial-market regulation with the election pledges of Steinbrueck, saying that “my valued predecessor -- a not-so valued candidate for chancellor -- promises things that are not so easy to implement in reality.”
Schaeuble cited the recent increase in private consumption as evidence “the people have trust” and that “people say the end of the world is a way off yet.” Neither has the euro collapsed, he told the audience. “Catastrophes will always be forecast,” he said. “But that’s not always quite true.”
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