German SPD Denies Report Steinbrueck to Challenge Merkel in 2013

Germany’s main opposition Social Democratic Party denied a report in Cicero magazine that the SPD leadership has decided to field Peer Steinbrueck against Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s federal election.

Fellow SPD leaders Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier see Steinbrueck, the finance minister in Merkel’s first-term coalition with the Social Democrats, as having the best chance of defeating Merkel, Cicero reported today, citing party members it didn’t name. The SPD will announce Steinbrueck’s candidacy before Christmas, the magazine said.

“That’s nonsense,” SPD spokesman Tobias Duenow said in an e-mail when asked to comment on the report.

The SPD, which governed with the Greens under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder from 1998 to 2005 before serving in a so-called grand coalition with Merkel’s CDU/CSU for the next four years, trails the chancellor’s party by 7-12 percentage points in opinion polls one year out from the election.

Merkel is more popular than any of the three SPD leaders, with a Forsa poll for Stern released on Sept. 19 suggesting that she would trounce all three contenders if voters could elect the chancellor directly. Merkel “seems unbeatable right now,” Stern said.

Even so, the current weakness of Merkel’s Free Democratic coalition partner since 2009 threatens to force her into another coalition with the SPD after the election. Steinbrueck will aim to dispel the notion that a grand coalition is the only possible outcome of the election due in the fall of 2013, Cicero said.

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