Schroeder fires up party for last stretch of campaign

31st August 2005, Comments 0 comments

31 August 2005, BERLIN - Shrugging off grim election polls, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Wednesday fired up his SPD with attacks on challenger Angela Merkel who, he warned, would replace Germany's social welfare system with an "inhuman elbow society".

31 August 2005

BERLIN - Shrugging off grim election polls, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Wednesday fired up his SPD with attacks on challenger Angela Merkel who, he warned, would replace Germany's social welfare system with an "inhuman elbow society".

Schroeder, in a rousing speech to his Social Democrats (SPD) at a Berlin congress, said Germany's September 18 election would only be decided in the final days of campaigning.

Warning supporters not to trust an "unholy alliance" of pollsters, publishers and media commentators predicting his defeat, Schroeder declared: "I am sure we will reach our goal."

Cheering supporters yelled "Gerd! Gerd!" and waved signs aimed at Merkel such as "No Angies." Other banners alluded to Schroeder's opposition to the Iraq war with the words "Peace Chancellor" or his nickname as a semi-professional football player during his youth, "The Plough".

Schroeder slammed Merkel and her conservatives for, as he put it, seeking an "elbow society" driven by egoism which would produce a few winners and lots of losers.

"It's cold, it lacks solidarity and it's inhuman," said Schroeder to applause.

The German leader said Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) wanted a truly different Germany and that he would seek to make this point crystal clear to voters in the campaign's final weeks.

Schroeder accused Merkel of planning to "break the backs of trade unions" and doing away with the current system of setting nationwide wages for industrial sectors - which is beloved by unions and hated by most business leaders.

He also dismissed Merkel's plan to raise value added tax to 18 per cent from the current 16 per cent.

"The value-added tax plans of Frau Merkel are a threat to our economic recovery," said Schroeder.

Putting a positive spin on German unemployment, which edged down to 11.4 per cent for August in figures released Wednesday, the Chancellor accused Merkel's party of "brazen lying" in ignoring the 1,500 new jobs a day being created since April.

So far, the campaign issues chosen by Schroeder have failed to ignite voter support and the SPD is now focusing on Merkel herself and the shadow finance minister, Paul Kirchhof, who wants a flat tax of 25 per cent.

Schroeder said opposition tax plans would yield a EUR 42 billion deficit and accused Kirchhof of having a totally outdated view of women as homemakers in the kitchen. "How does this work with single parent families?", asked the Chancellor.

"It's not the 1950s but rather a return to the 19th century," said Schroeder to loud applause.

Whether such attacks can turn around the election is unclear.

An Allensbach agency poll says the big trademark SPD theme of social justice has been stolen by a newly founded Left Party comprised of east Germany's post-communists and rebel SPD members including former party chairman Oskar Lafontaine.

The SPD's social welfare image also suffers from Schroeder's reforms which have cut welfare and unemployment benefits - moves which angered many leftists, said Allensbach chief Renate Koecher.

"That the SPD cannot make any political capital here is partly due to competition of the new Left Party but it's also due to the burden of seven years in office," said Koecher.

Schroeder has been wary about attacking the Left Party because the SPD hopes to wean away supporters.

"Their programme is to create a virtual wall around Germany to keep out globalization," he said, adding that this was dangerous illusion given the country's position as global export champion.

Koecher said Schroeder's bid in recent weeks to make political hay out of U.S. President George W. Bush's refusal to rule out using force against Iran had been a flop.

Iran's nuclear programme may be a serious issue but it is not a burning theme like the impending Iraq conflict in 2002, when the Chancellor used his 'no' to the war to help secure a narrow re- election victory.

Latest poll data makes grim reading for Schroeder.

Merkel's CDU/CSU and Free Democratic (FDP) ally has a clear majority of 51.3 per cent, said the Allensbach poll.

In contrast, Schroeder's ruling SPD-Greens government is at 35.8 per cent.

The Left Party, which is poaching SPD votes and also winning over people who would not normally cast ballots, has just over 10 per cent.

But the mood was upbeat after Schroeder's 90 minute speech and SPD party chief Franz Muentefering declared the half-day congress had been a needed "fuel-up and rocket" to boost party workers for the final 18 days of campaigning.

In a closing touch of folklore, Schroeder joined a men's choir dressed in ceremonial, black miners' uniforms with caps crowned by feathers to sing the old SPD song of struggle "When we stride side-by-side".


Subject: German news

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