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Merkel Says Europe Can’t Just Rest on Its Renaissance Laurels

September 09, 2013

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, answers live questions during an electoral event in Moenchengladbach, Germany on Sept. 9, 2013. Photographer: Oliver Berg/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she isn’t to blame for the euro area’s north-south split during the debt crisis, saying Europe must be hauled up through reforms to make it globally competitive.

Merkel, responding to audience questions in a live ARD TV broadcast yesterday in the western city of Moenchengladbach less than two weeks before elections, said that it wasn’t enough to dwell on Europe’s past achievements such as the Renaissance. Countries can only become “strong” if they modernize and stay innovative, not by means of debt sharing, Merkel said.

“It’s better that we’re strict with each other and I think that we’re making progress here,” Merkel said. “This is my approach and you can say that I’m doing all these things because I’m really a European at heart. In the Cold War, I sat behind the Wall.”

Merkel, whose lead over her Social Democratic challenger Peer Steinbrueck is narrowing before the Sept. 22 vote, said German solidarity with troubled euro nations like Greece must come in tandem with Greek reforms. She again rejected creating euro bonds or a debt redemption fund as means to aid indebted single currency states.

“My concern is that we in Europe are so accustomed to being the leading group of this world that we don’t even see how other countries are catching up,” Merkel said. “I don’t want us to be a continent in the end where one looks and travels to and says ‘let’s see what these Renaissance buildings look like, let’s look at where the first car was built,’ and everything that’s modern, that’s innovative, that’s great and advances mankind happens elsewhere.”

Sounding Alarm

As the race tightens, Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union are sounding the alarm over a possible SPD-led coalition that includes the anti-capitalist Left Party, the successor to former East Germany’s communists that wants to nationalize all big banks, ban hedge funds and raise taxes.

In a Sept. 8 weekly Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag newspaper, 50 percent of those polled said they want Merkel as chancellor compared with 35 percent who favored Steinbrueck. While Merkel’s popularity dropped two points, Steinbrueck’s increased seven points.

In a separate weekly INSA poll for Bild-Zeitung newspaper published yesterday, Merkel’s pro-market Free Democrat coalition partner fell one point to 4 percent, below the 5 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament. INSA is the only polling company among seven that has the FDP below 5 percent support.

Greens Fall

While backing for the CDU and its Christian Social Union Bavarian sister party held at 39 percent, Steinbrueck’s SPD gained one point to 28 percent. The Greens party dropped two points to 11 percent and the Left Party held at 8 percent support.

Bild said INSA surveyed 2,132 voters Sept. 6-9, without providing details on the margin of error. German voters cast ballots for members of parliament and parties and don’t directly elect the chancellor.

The vote “will be very close,” Merkel said in a speech at a rally in Dusseldorf on Sept. 8.

Steinbrueck, Merkel’s first-term finance minister, says the chancellor failed to address the rich-poor gap as the economy rebounded and is responsible for domestic inaction that has resulted in a “standstill.”

While Merkel is leaving voters in the dark as to where she wants to lead the country, an SPD-led government would introduce a flat-rate minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.27), enforce equal pay for men and women as well as for temporary workers and permanent staff, reform the pensions system, cap rent increases, raise taxes for higher earners and put a brake on electricity prices, Steinbrueck said Aug. 29.

Merkel is campaigning on her record of tackling the debt crisis as well as her stewardship of the Germany economy, with joblessness near a two-decade low and the budget balanced. Her assertion that SPD and Greens plans to raise taxes on the wealthier would harm the economy is disputed by Steinbrueck, who says a majority of voters would be better off and the extra revenue would be used to employ more teachers.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rainer Buergin in Berlin at; Brian Parkin in Berlin at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at

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