German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced tax increases as “poison” as she waded into the campaign for Sept. 22 elections vowing to remain in office for the full four-year legislative period if she wins another term.
Speaking in Berlin late yesterday after returning from a two-week vacation, Merkel rebuffed the charge that her election effort is excessively cautious, saying there are “very clear” differences with the opposition Social Democrats. She singled out taxes, which SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck has pledged to raise, minimum wages and European policy.
With German economic expansion of 0.7 percent in the second quarter helping haul the euro area out of a record recession, Merkel signaled that in a third term she’d hold to the same crisis-resolution course she has pursued since the turmoil erupted in Greece.
“I will ensure that solidarity leads to results,” Merkel said during a panel interview for Phoenix Television, defending Germany’s commitment to help other euro-area countries battered during the debt crisis while insisting upon structural reforms in return. “It makes no sense if structurally nothing changes.”
Merkel embarks on a 56-stop campaign tour of Germany today, five-and a half weeks to the election that will determine whether she or Steinbrueck, her first-term finance minister, assumes the controls of Europe’s biggest economy. She aims to defend her lead in the polls over the SPD, which has failed to gain ground even as Steinbrueck sharpens his political attacks.
Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, held at 40 percent in a weekly Forsa poll for Stern magazine and RTL television published today. 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.
With policy making over the European debt crisis put on hold until after the vote, Merkel rebuffed questions about additional assistance for Greece. Instead, she pointed to “positive elements” as the euro economy begins a turnaround.
“We need to give Greece a little time so that things can develop a bit,” Merkel said.
She also offered her most explicit denial yet of reports that she plans to step down during a prospective third term. Responding to an Aug. 7 report in Stern that she planned to leave office in 2016 if re-elected, Merkel said “the people who wrote that didn’t ask me.”
“Of course I want to govern for a full legislative period,” she said.
Merkel plunges into the campaign in the Hessian city of Seligenstadt at 5 p.m. followed by an appearance in Ludwigshafen at 7 p.m., the first of almost daily rallies 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 favoured 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.