German Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel’s euro crisis-resolution polices as obsessed with spending cuts and told voters that Germany must step in to help indebted countries.
Merkel has been focused on “saving, saving, saving” and has spent the crisis “doing a dance of the veils” to convince voters that Germany shouldn’t pay to help weaker nations, the SPD chancellor candidate said, responding to audience questions in a live broadcast on ARD television. Steinbrueck said Germany would have to save 170 billion euros ($226 billion) a year if it had to cut as much as euro members Greece and Spain.
“Nobody would be sitting here very quietly in that case,” Steinbrueck said in the town-hall style event yesterday in the western German city of Moenchengladbach. Austerity policies in southern Europe are creating a “social powder keg,” he said.
Steinbrueck is stepping up criticism of Merkel’s crisis response as polls show the SPD gaining ground on the chancellor’s Christian Democrats after their only campaign debate on Sept. 1. Yet 10 days before the Sept. 22 election, most polls show Merkel with a slim majority to lead a third government in her present coalition with the Free Democrats.
A Forsa poll published in Stern magazine yesterday gave a two-point gain for Steinbrueck’s SPD to 25 percent. That was offset by a two-point drop for the SPD-allied Greens party to 9 percent, a four-year low. That would undermine Steinbrueck’s goal of forging an SPD-Green coalition.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc dropped a point to 39 percent, while her FDP partner gained one to 6 percent. Forsa surveyed 2,500 voters Sept. 3-9 and the poll had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.
The decline of the Greens would buttress Merkel’s position in coalition talks, either with the FDP or for a “grand coalition” with the SPD. Merkel’s first government from 2005 to 2009 was a coalition with the SPD.
“Steinbrueck’s performance in the election debate was a wake-up call for Merkel but he’s still not gaining enough traction,” Jan Techau, director of the Brussels office of the Carnegie Endowment, said in a telephone interview.
In a personal contest between Merkel and Steinbrueck, the chancellor lost three points to 52 percent, while the SPD candidate gained three to 26 percent, Forsa showed. This was Forsa’s first survey taken after the Sept. 1 debate. German voters cast ballots for members of parliament and parties and don’t directly elect the chancellor.
The drop for the Greens marks a reversal of fortune for the environmental party compared with a surge in support following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Forsa registered a high of 28 percent for the Greens in April 2011.
Forsa’s managing director, Manfred Guellner, told Stern the Greens’ slump is due to their campaign for social justice, which “doesn’t fit them,” and calls for tax increases.
Merkel has also pounced on a Green proposal to mandate a no-meat “veggie day” in school and work cafeterias, targeting the idea in most of her election rally speeches. Merkel says the CDU won’t legislate what people should eat.
Steinbrueck defended his party’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund Germany’s “dilapidated” infrastructure and underfunded communities should he unseat Merkel. The SPD plans to raise the top income tax rate to 49 percent.
“Not everybody should pay more, but some should pay a little more,” Steinbrueck said.
Steinbrueck fielded questions on issues including climate change, rising energy prices, retirement security and temporary jobs. One 55-year-old woman asked whether Steinbrueck, 66, “really wanted to bother with the chancellorship” at his age.
“Just look at me,” Steinbrueck responded as he paced the floor.
Another voter asked what the SPD candidate what he would do about motorists on Germany’s autobahns who drive the wrong way.
“Your question surprises me,” a puzzled Steinbrueck said before pledging to examine a pilot program in an unidentified Bavarian community to hang additional warning signs.