• SPD Chairman Gabriel calls for halt to dwindling pensions
  • Party to make pensions an election issue if Merkel opposes

Chancellor Angela Merkel faced the opening gambit of the 2017 election campaign as her Social Democratic coalition partner demanded a halt to dwindling pensions.

SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel, Merkel’s vice chancellor, said his party would seek to halt the decline in average pensions as a percentage of working wages at their current level. Should Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc reject that, Gabriel said his party will campaign on the issue in next year’s vote, which can be held at the latest in September.

“If pension levels drop any further, then old-age poverty will become a threat,” Gabriel told the Funke newspaper consortium in a group interview published Tuesday. “If the CDU/CSU aren’t with us, then the SPD will put this to a vote during the next election.”

Merkel, in office for more than a decade, hasn’t announced whether she’ll seek a fourth term. While anxiety over the region’s refugee crisis has cost her party support, with CDU losses recorded in three state elections last month, the SPD’s backing has dropped to record lows. The SPD slid half a percentage point to 19.5 percent in a weekly Insa poll for Tuesday’s Bild newspaper, the first ever reading below 20 percent. Merkel’s CDU and its CSU Bavarian sister party stood at 31.5 percent, also down a half a point.

As the country’s population ages, declining pensions have become a source of anxiety among voters. Pensions are projected to drop to about 43 percent of average wages by 2029 from 46 percent in 2020, according calculations from Germany’s Labor Ministry.

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