German Chancellor Angela Merkel swung into campaign mode with a message of cutting debt, bolstering energy security and a jab at her Social Democratic challengers.
Merkel used separate events in the south and west of the country yesterday to hone her stump speech one year out from federal elections that she has said will be fought on the euro- area crisis that spread from Greece and on Germany’s shift away from nuclear power to renewable energies. Due in the fall of 2013, the vote will determine whether Germany’s first woman chancellor and its first from the former communist east secures a third term.
“We got used to living beyond our means and to running up debts,” Merkel told a meeting of her Christian Democratic Union party in the western Ruhr Valley city of Recklinghausen. “This has brought us into dependency on financial markets. We will only get out of this dependency if we start thinking more about how we spend less than we take in.”
Merkel’s remarks, made to a senior citizens’ group within her CDU, echoed comments in a speech delivered three hours earlier to a traditional beer-tent gathering of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. There she attacked financial markets for allowing a few to get rich at the expense of the many, saying they can’t be allowed to destroy the fruits of people’s labor and governments can’t be put at their mercy through excess debt.
“The real question about our democracy is: Can we in Germany and in Europe win elections when we jointly stand up for solid finances, when we don’t always spend more than we take in?” Merkel told CSU party officials who face their own regional Bavarian election next year.
Merkel, 58, has taken the lead in tackling the crisis in the 17-nation euro area and is Germany’s most popular politician ahead of national elections that must be held between Aug. 28 and Oct. 27 next year, according to the Federal Election Director’s website. With polls showing a majority of voters back her crisis-fighting efforts, Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc surged to its highest level in four years in a survey last week.
Voters trust Merkel because “people have the feeling that she’s taking care that the euro crisis, with all of its bad effects, doesn’t hit them squarely in the face,” Manfred Guellner, head of the Berlin-based Forsa polling company, said in an interview. “She shields people from the crisis.”
Speaking in Recklinghausen after sweeping into the convention hall to throbbing music and a standing ovation, the Chancellor warned that it won’t be enough for Europe to simply exit the sovereign debt crisis given challenges posed by the rise of China, which she visited last week.
“When you see with what elan they are trying to raise their living standards” and their “great dynamism,” it’s clear that “Europe can’t afford to be complacent and we have to show that we can do better,” she said.
Europe, Merkel said, has 500 million people who produce 25 percent of global gross domestic product yet are responsible for 50 percent of global spending on social welfare. The message of China’s success is that “Europe can’t stand still” if it wants to preserve its living standards, she said, again echoing comments made in Bavaria.
Merkel contrasted the speed of development in China with the delayed opening of Berlin’s new airport and difficulties in building new runways at airports like Frankfurt or a new train station in Stuttgart. This, she said, showed that Germany must accelerate infrastructure projects including power-transmission lines to take wind energy from the northern coast to the southern industrial bases of Europe’s biggest economy.
She also ratcheted up attacks on the main opposition Social Democratic Party, including a swipe at her predecessor, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. She criticized the SPD premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where Recklinghausen is located, for “doing nothing” to allow a new coal-fired plant to begin operation, and blasted the SPD mayor of Munich “who’s doing nothing to build a new airport runway.”
Support for the CDU/CSU climbed three percentage points to 39 percent, the most since July 2008, while Merkel’s Free Democratic Party coalition ally held steady at 5 percent, according to a weekly Forsa poll published Aug. 29. That gave the coalition parties a combined 44 percent compared to 38 percent for the SPD and its traditional Green Party ally, both of which slipped a point, to 26 percent and 12 percent respectively. The anti-capitalist Left and the Pirates each had 7 percent in the poll.
Returning to the euro crisis, Merkel made a rare personal attack on Schroeder and former SPD Finance Minister Hans Eichel for what she said was their role in making Germany a bad example by allowing it to breach euro state budget deficit limits in 2003.
Back then “it was a different understanding of politics,” she said.
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