Merkel Appeals for Strong Europe as Steinbrueck AttacksRainer Buergin and Patrick Donahue
German Chancellor Angela Merkel closed her campaign evoking the benefits of European unity as Social Democrat Peer Steinbrueck lambasted her as ineffectual and “backward-looking.”
The candidates crisscrossed the nation in the days before tomorrow’s vote, with all polls putting Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc ahead; none showed a clear majority for her continued alliance with the Free Democrats, and some suggest the anti-euro AfD party may win seats and further complicate the post-election coalition-building.
“We want a strong Europe, a successful Europe” and “in the next four years we have to work so that this wonderful continent continues to be successful,” Merkel told her penultimate rally in Berlin today. She then wound up the campaign in her Baltic Sea constituency of Stralsund.
Merkel, who has presided over a decline in unemployment to the lowest in two decades and won overwhelming German backing for her approach to the euro-area debt crisis, is struggling to assert her favoured coalition option amid a reinvigorated challenge by Steinbrueck’s SPD, a weakened FDP partner and the wildcard of the AfD.
Steinbrueck, speaking today at the final rally of his campaign in Frankfurt, the financial capital, said Merkel’s government has done nothing to address areas including nursing care or pensions, while on energy it’s been in charge of the “worst-managed policy that I’ve experienced in 20 years.”
He contrasted his proposals on rent controls, improving the education system and investing in infrastructure to Merkel’s “directionless” government. Steinbrueck, Merkel’s first-term finance minister, defended his plans to raise the top rate of income tax as necessary to address a gap between richer and poorer in society that he said had widened as a result of Merkel’s inactivity.
“Where is the direction? Where is the compass for this country?” Steinbrueck told the crowd of about 7,000 in Frankfurt, the biggest city in Hesse, which also votes tomorrow for regional offices. “Tomorrow night you can throw out the most inactive, backwards-looking, most divided -- yet pompous -- government since German reunification.”
Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc has 38-40 percent support in the last five opinion polls published in the past two days, while her Free Democratic coalition partner has 5-6 percent. The SPD is at 26-28 percent and its Green party allies at 8-10 percent.
In Stralsund, she exhorted supporters to turn out tomorrow as she seeks a third term, saying “every vote counts.”
The anti-capitalist Left Party, which Steinbrueck rejects as a governing partner, has 8.5-9 percent and the AfD, or Alternative for Germany, 4-5 percent. While that is on the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats, CDU leaders including Thuringia Prime Minister Christine Lieberknecht have ruled out coalition talks with the AfD because of its anti-euro stance.
Germany, the biggest source of the 496 billion euros ($671 billion) of bailout commitments to five euro nations, must continue providing support in exchange for their enacting austerity policies to boost competitiveness, Merkel says.
“We have to continue on this course,” Merkel said today. “Stabilization in Europe is in the fundamental interests of Germans and secures German jobs.”
She again denounced proposals that have been supported by the Social Democrats, such as a debt-redemption fund and jointly issued euro bonds to overcome the European debt crisis. “There will be no pooling of debt with the CDU,” she said.
Steinbrueck reiterated his support for the euro, saying that its demise would “throw back European unification by 20 to 30 years” and result in currency appreciation that would “destroy any business.”
At the same time, he sought to contrast his stance with Merkel’s, saying that Germany under Social Democratic leadership would return to being a “good neighbor” in Europe and citing the post-World War II era, when Germany’s one-time victims “didn’t have to fear us anymore, and they experienced a trustworthy European partner.”
“There have been times when we have been helped -- back then it was called the Marshall Plan,” he said. “There have been times when these European countries stretched out their hand for us to participate in European unification.”
Voting begins at 8 a.m. tomorrow and ends at 6 p.m., at which time German television networks ARD and ZDF release exit polls. Results based on partially counted ballots will be broadcast from about 6:15 p.m. Unless the vote is close, the winner is usually clear by about 7:30 p.m.