German Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck accused Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government of isolating the country in the European debt crisis as his party approved his candidacy to challenge her in next year’s election.
The SPD candidate, who was finance minister under Merkel from 2005 to 2009, described Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union as “listless” and shirking Germany’s responsibilities by working in its own interest during Europe’s turmoil at the expense of euro members burdened by debt and austerity. SPD delegates voted for his candidacy by a margin of 93 percent.
“We come across as a taskmaster in Europe -- that’s not what a good neighbor does,” Steinbrueck told party members yesterday in the central city of Hanover. “The only thing the CDU has to offer is the chancellor herself, and nothing else.”
Merkel’s bloc remains ahead of the SPD in polls 10 months before national elections even after leading Germany through the debt crisis with a recipe of deficit and debt reduction. Steinbrueck, who in the past has supported pooled European debt and easing austerity, said he would embrace Germany’s “broad responsibility for Europe” as chancellor.
The CDU’s support stands at 40 percent, the party’s highest level since February 2006, according to an Emnid poll published yesterday in the Bild newspaper. The SPD trailed with 28 percent. Merkel was reaffirmed as CDU chairwoman Dec. 4 with a margin of 98 percent, the strongest support of any CDU leader since Helmut Kohl reunified Germany 22 years ago.
Steinbrueck, 65, pledged to form a government with the environmental Green Party and rejected a repeat of the so-called grand coalition following the 2005 election, when the SPD was forced into a partnership with the CDU.
“I’m not available for a grand coalition,” Steinbrueck said ahead of elections scheduled for September 2013.
With the SPD and Greens falling short of a majority and Merkel’s current coalition partner, the Free Democrats, struggling in polls, a CDU-SPD government would be the most likely outcome if the election were held today.
Offering a program including a nationwide minimum wage, higher tax rates and robust bank regulations, Steinbrueck said the CDU’s only agenda was to buttress the power of a popular chancellor. Merkel’s politics consist of “popcorn phrases, which contain lots of air and little substance,” he said.
Steinbrueck became the favorite to lead the party in the campaign after two other party leaders, former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel bowed out of the race in September. Since then, Steinbrueck has been beset by criticism for paid speeches he’s given to groups such as business associations and banks.
The candidate expressed regret for the speeches, saying the payments “were heavy stones that I’ve carried in my bag and laid on your shoulders as well.”
A trained economist, who once worked for former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Steinbrueck spearheaded Germany’s response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis during Merkel’s first term. He subsequently criticized the chancellor’s austerity-first policy and has supported jointly issued euro-denominated bonds, a proposal that Merkel’s government has rejected.
Before joining the federal government in 2005, Steinbrueck lost an election to stay on as premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, a defeat that spurred Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to call early elections.