German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed the prospect of a post-election alliance with the main opposition Social Democratic Party as the latest poll showed her in a position to reprise her current coalition after the vote.
“Nobody wants that,” Merkel said in an interview with broadcaster ZDF yesterday when asked about the probability of a repeat of her first-term “grand coalition” with the SPD. “I hear that from all sides.”
Merkel brushed off the option of a grand coalition as she seeks to pile pressure on her SPD challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, five weeks before the vote that will determine who wins control of Europe’s biggest economy.
With both candidates stepping up campaigning this week, Merkel was forced to cancel a planned appearance in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt today after a gunman took several people hostage in the town hall. Police said the incident was unrelated to her rally, which had been scheduled for 5 p.m.
In her interview, the chancellor predicted that the Sept. 22 vote will be “very, very close,” even as an Emnid poll for yesterday’s Bild newspaper showed her Christian Democratic-led bloc and its Free Democratic coalition partner with a majority.
“I want to continue the Christian-liberal coalition because we’ve done a good job,” Merkel told ZDF.
Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, dropped one percentage point to 40 percent in the weekly Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag. The Free Democrats gained a point to 6 percent, a combined tally that would probably allow a rerun of the current government if repeated on Election Day.
The SPD lost a point to 24 percent and their Green party allies were 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.
Merkel, who has come to the fore of European policy making during more than three years of the euro-area debt crisis, is leveraging her popularity with German voters to try and secure a third term.
Voters are concerned about demographic change and its effect on pensions as well as the euro-area crisis, said Michael Fuchs, a CDU deputy parliamentary leader and economy spokesman.
“They tell us always, ‘Be careful guys, because we can’t just pay for the world’,” Fuchs said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Francine Lacqua and Manus Cranny.
While Steinbrueck intensifies his assaults on the chancellor, accusing her at a weekend rally in Berlin of “managing” rather than “guiding” the nation, Merkel has avoided a counterattack. In her first campaign appearances last week, she failed to mention Steinbrueck by name.
“It’s well known who the chancellor candidate is for the SPD,” Merkel said, when asked about “ignoring” Steinbrueck, her finance minister during the previous grand coalition from 2005 to 2009. “I worked very well with him for four years as finance minister and have only the best memories of it.”
She deflected the charge that she’s “demobilizing” the electorate to remain in power by occupying policy ground normally associated with the SPD, such as minimum wages and rent controls. Steinbrueck has accused Merkel of “lulling” voters into inaction.
“Honesty and clarity” are needed to win over the electorate, SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel told reporters today.
Merkel’s dismissal of a grand coalition comes after Gabriel raised the prospect of a party-wide vote on any coalition immediately after the election. While declining to rule out such a configuration, Steinbrueck has said that he won’t be part of a government with Merkel.
“I want to experience a new start for this country with you,” Steinbrueck told a crowd of several thousand in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Aug. 17, part of an outdoor concert staged for the SPD’s 150th anniversary.
The SPD has started a nationwide mobilization effort to win back some of the 10 million voters who have drifted away from the party over the past 15 years. While polls have shown Merkel with a steady lead, the SPD leadership has insisted that the contest will be decided in the final weeks of the campaign.
Merkel’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, returns from summer vacation to hit the campaign trail today in North Rhine-Westphalia, followed by a four-stop rally in and around Hamburg tomorrow.
As Schaeuble goes north, the chancellor heads south to campaign in Bavaria, where her CSU ally is bidding to win an absolute majority in a state election on Sept. 15 that will be a bellwether for the federal vote seven days later.
Merkel is due to speak in Regensburg this evening, followed tomorrow by rallies in Erlangen and in Dachau, where she will visit the site of the former Nazi concentration camp, the first sitting German chancellor to do so.
Steinbrueck teams up with former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for campaign stops in Detmold tomorrow and in Schroeder’s home town of Hanover on Aug. 21. In the 2005 election, Schroeder narrowed Merkel’s poll lead -- about 13 points five weeks before the vote -- to just one percentage point, forcing Merkel into a grand coalition with his party.