German election campaigns sideline EU
11 June 2004BERLIN - European Union issues are largely sidelined in German campaigning for European Parliament elections with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the conservative opposition focused on national themes and domestic muscle flexing.
11 June 2004
BERLIN - European Union issues are largely sidelined in German campaigning for European Parliament elections with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the conservative opposition focused on national themes and domestic muscle flexing.
Election posters for Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) have a flapping German flag as the background, with hardly a hint of the blue European Union (EU) flag and its distinctive gold stars.
Schroeder's election slogans for the 13 June European Parliament election also have little to do with the EU.
In a repeat of the 2002 German general election, Schroeder is running on being against the Iraq war - a view widely shared by German voters.
"A Power for Peace" declares the main Schroeder election poster, which has been plastered in a huge format along major streets from Berlin to Munich.
The opposition Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) is little better and has based its campaign not on EU topics but rather on Schroeder's domestic policies, the weak economy and unemployment which is near 11 percent.
Expected defeat for Schroeder's SPD on election day is already being hailed by the CDU/CSU as another sign that Germany's centre-left government is on its way out.
Indeed, polls show the CDU/CSU likely to win up to 48 percent with the SPD set to take between 25 and 30 percent.
To be fair, one reason why the SPD and CDU/CSU have been saying so little about the EU is that both government and opposition are strongly pro-Europe and have scant policy differences with regard to Brussels.
Curiously, however, the big EU issue where SPD and CDU/CSU have deeply opposing policies - possible Turkish membership of the bloc - has been largely avoided.
Schroeder is a strong backer of Turkish EU membership whereas the CDU/CSU is mainly against letting Turkey join the Union.
The SPD has duly made a leading German-Turkish businessman, Vural Oeger, one of its top candidates for the election.
Oeger promptly embarrassed the SPD with widely reported remarks in which he complained German women were not having enough children and that Turkish women in Germany, who have far more children, would complete the failed Turkish 17th century conquest of Europe.
A chastised Oeger said he had been partially misquoted and that he had, in any case, meant the comments as a joke.
But otherwise the Turkey issue is not being highlighted.
This may be due to polls showing that Turkey is regarded as important by merely 18 percent of German voters; compared with 41 percent saying the Iraq war stance is a vital issue.
A further reason is that with ever more of Germany's 1.9 million resident Turks getting the right to vote, the CDU/CSU is clearly not keen to lose potential support by making Turkey a banner theme.
Germany's Greens, which serve as Schroeder's junior coalition partner, are also focusing on non-European themes.
A Greens election poster plastered across Berlin calls for opposition to cloning. The background of the poster is some 30 identical pictures of US President George W. Bush who has become deeply unpopular in Germany.
Polls show the Greens are likely to improve their share of the vote and win up to 13 percent - almost double what they garnered in the last European Parliament election in 1999.
The opposition Free Democrats (FDP) are tracking at 6 to 7 percent in the polls, meaning they are likely to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed to win seats in parliament under election law.
But the former East German communists, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), are below the 5 percent level and look likely to continue their decline, which is partly due to their largely elderly party members simply dying off.
Subject: German news