Germany's Merkel sets stage for 2013 elections
BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel launched her bid for re-election Tuesday, telling party faithful her government has successfully steered Germany through the worst of the European financial crisis and is best equipped to guide it through what may still be tough times ahead.
Speaking at her Christian Democratic Union's party congress in Hannover, she noted that unemployment in Germany is down, the economy is still growing while others in Europe are stagnating or shrinking, and that the deficit has been reduced.
"We have guided Germany out of the crisis stronger than Germany entered the crisis," she said to a cheering audience.
In a nod to her struggling coalition Free Democratic Party partners, she said "in these times no coalition could lead our country better."
"This government is the most successful government since reunification," she said.
Party members gave Merkel's record a resounding endorsement after her speech, re-electing her as the CDU leader with a landslide majority of 98 percent of the vote. Merkel has led the party since 2000 and has governed Europe's biggest economy as the country's first female chancellor since 2005.
Nationally, Recent polls show Merkel's personally far more popular than Peer Steinbrueck, the main opposition Social Democratic Party's candidate for chancellor.
But they also indicate a tight race between the preferred coalition governments of both parties. A Dec. 1 poll for Bild newspaper showed Merkel's CDU and Bavarian-only sister CSU with 38 percent support and the FDP with 4 percent — for 42 percent total — versus 28 percent support for the SPD and 14 percent for the Greens — also 42 percent.
The poll conducted by the Emnid agency had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
The FDP numbers are worrisome, as they're below the 5 percent needed to get into Parliament, but elections are 10 months away and with support for Merkel's own party far above the others, the chancellor is in a comfortable position for the 2013 election at the moment, said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University.
The eurozone debt crisis is a potential problem — but perhaps not as much of one as it might seem, he said.
"The worse the crisis gets, and with it the effects on German budget and financial policy, if it becomes clear to voters here that there is less money for national matters, that could damage Mrs. Merkel," Neugebauer said. "Then her credibility would take a knock."
Merkel herself acknowledged that these are "turbulent times" and that while it may be tempting to say "the euro is saved" there are signs that German growth may slow next year as other eurozone countries remain mired in recession.
"I will say here explicitly — we must be careful," she said. "This crisis cannot be solved overnight because it didn't happen overnight."
Germany is the largest contributor to eurozone rescue funds, and Merkel pledged continued support to other countries, saying that "in the long run, Germany only does well when Europe does well."
"I want to see the euro come out of this crisis stronger than it went into it, and since we've already accomplished that in Germany we can also accomplish that in Europe," she said.
Domestically, she promised more support for families raising children, tax incentives for people undertaking energy-saving renovations for their homes, and more money for research and development.
She said the country needs economic growth to create more jobs, but also said it did not need growth at any price, pledging that her policies would be "economically, ecologically and socially responsible."
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson contributed to this story.