Merkel’s Challenger Strains to Draw Differences as Polls Sink

  • SPD’s Schulz says he’d go harder on auto industry, Trump
  • Party’s poll numbers drop six days before German election

Likely Merkel Coalitions Second Best for Economy

Angela Merkel’s main challenger, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, sought to take a tougher line on the German auto industry and said he’d respond more forcefully to U.S. President Donald Trump as his party’s position in the polls continued to slip.

Six days before Germany’s Sept. 24 election, Schulz escalated his rhetoric against Merkel, blaming the chancellor for slowing new rules that would make it easier to take legal action against carmakers in the diesel scandal. He also said the German leader was too timid toward leaders such as Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“On this notion that there are no differences –- oh yes, there are differences, and you can vote on them on the 24th,” Schulz told a town hall meeting Monday in Luebeck, broadcast on ARD television.

Author Joyce Mushaben discusses Merkel’s legacy, the election in Germany. She speaks on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Europe."

(Source: Bloomberg)

As polls show the Social Democrat’s chances of seizing the Federal Chancellery from Merkel fading, Schulz has strained to counter the accusation that he hasn’t presented a sharp enough alternative to Merkel. In the campaign’s sole televised debate two weeks ago, Schulz failed to make a breakthrough. Merkel has dismissed his demand to hold another one.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc slipped a half point to 36 percent, while the Social Democrats dropped 1.5 percentage points to 22 percent, according to an INSA poll for Bild newspaper published Monday.

Insisting that he would be tougher on a German auto industry grappling with the diesel scandal, Schulz said attempts to make it possible for group legal challenges similar to U.S.-style class-action lawsuits had stopped at Merkel’s desk.

“I don’t know why,” Schulz said. “I can possibly imagine, perhaps it’s one or the other lobby association.”

The chancellor has said such class-action lawsuits aren’t compatible with German law. Should Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc form a government with the business-friendly Free Democrats, “then I can guarantee that there will be absolutely nothing,” Schulz said.

In a 75-minute debate that touched on issues from taming rising rents to filling a labor shortage in nursing care to disposing of food waste, the Social Democratic leader was asked how he’d fill Merkel’s shoes as a respected world leader.

As a former president of the European Parliament, Schulz said, “most of the people Merkel sees at G-7 and G-20 meetings I know very well.”

“I have another way of working,” Schulz said. “Ms. Merkel has a very restrained attitude in a time of Erdogan, Trump and Putin. I won’t be that way.”

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE