Paul Kirchhof becomes a major election issue
14 September 2005, POTSDAM, GERMANY - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder never refers to him by name but instead lowers his voice and growls "that professor" - and in this eastern German city on Tuesday evening, the party faithful loved it.
14 September 2005
POTSDAM, GERMANY - Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder never refers to him by name but instead lowers his voice and growls "that professor" - and in this eastern German city on Tuesday evening, the party faithful loved it.
The man Schroeder loves to hate and tar as a bogeyman of reaction is Paul Kirchhof, a former high court judge and shadow finance minister for opposition election challenger Angela Merkel.
With close elections expected on Sunday, Schroeder has sharpened his level of attacks on the opposition.
"There's this professor from Heidelberg," says Schroeder speaking to a crowd of about 9,000 gathered in Potsdam's Lustgarten square where the royal Hohenzollern Palace stood before it was bombed by the Allies in 1945 and then demolished by the communists.
His Social Democratic (SPD) supporters know the line. Whistles and jeers are hurled against Kirchhof.
Schroeder grins and continues: "You know it's funny, in the beginning all the Christian Democrats wanted to stand so close to him. But now they just want to erase him from their memory."
Kirchhof, who backs a 25 per cent flat tax, has proven a public relations liability if not a disaster for Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU).
His flat tax is far too radical for the CDU/CSU, which only proposes trimming the top income tax from 42 per cent to 39 per cent.
But Schroeder has managed to convince many voters that Kirchhof's university theories and CDU/CSU policy are one and the same.
"Merkel is just doing things for the rich people," said Gabrielle Duden, aged 43, who was part of the crowd on the chilly late summer evening.
Clearly relishing the political gift which Kirchhof has become, Schroeder stressed that "the professor" plans to organise state pensions just like automobile insurance.
"I say to you. Get your hands off this - people are not objects!" thundered Schroeder to cheers and applause.
Kirchhof-bashing drew the most excitment during Schroeder's 40 minute speech while listeners munched on bratwurst and swilled beer.
Turning to Kirchhof's flat tax, Schroeder told the audience: "Who wouldn't calculate to see if they didn't have an advantage from it."
But he insisted only "multi-millionaires" would profit from a flat tax and that their benefits would be paid by "nurses, firemen and police officers."
The Chancellor did not mention that Kirchhof's model calls for not taxing lower incomes, which would trim income tax for many moderate earners.
Schroeder underlined that a flat tax would result in a 43 billion euro (52 billion dollar) annual tax revenue shortfall.
Not everybody bought Schroeder's pitch.
There was some booing and a lone man marched through the crowd carrying a sign denouncing Schroeder's unemployment benefits cuts and shouting: "It's all lies - don't believe it."
A group of CDU/CSU supporters held up banners reminding of Germany's five million unemployed.
The Chancellor still trails Merkel in final days of campaigning before Sunday's general election, but he was clearly buoyed by rising support for his SPD in the polls.
Merkel is still likely to win the election but Germany's top six opinion polls say she is unlikely to gain a necessary majority for a centre-right government.
This would likely force her to seek a grand coalition with Schroeder's SPD as junior partner.
Subject: German news