Merkel partners rally for survival in election

5th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners kicked off their campaign to stay in government at the weekend, brandishing the French economy as a warning against German opposition policies.

Under the slogan "With us Germany remains strong", the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) presented itself as a bulwark against Germany losing its economic footing, at a congress in the southern city of Nuremberg on Saturday and Sunday.

Rainer Bruederle, the FDP's candidate for chancellor in September elections, said the French economy showed what happened when taxes were higher, working hours reduced and retirement early.

"That leads to less growth, to debt ... to the weakening of competitiveness," Bruederle, 67, told delegates Sunday, rallying the party for the September 22 ballot in which it is under threat of being booted out of parliament.

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats under their chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck together with French President Francois Hollande's Socialists want to set up a "debt union" in Europe after the election, he said.

"France is our closest partner but I am very worried about its development," said Bruederle, a former economy minister, chosen two months ago to breath new life into the FDP's flagging popularity.

Merkel says she wants another term in government with the party but its fortunes are uncertain as its ratings among voters have plummeted since a record showing in 2009 elections.

On Saturday Economy Minister and FDP party leader Philipp Roesler termed "irresponsible" a decision by the European Commission to put "in question the policy of budgetary consolidation in the EU countries" by giving France two more years to meet the EU deficit target of three percent.

Bruederle co-opted during the congress a formula previously used by Merkel, describing her government as the best since German reunification in 1990.

"We have seen four good years, Merkel is right ... and we think that the coalition between the conservatives and the FDP can still form the best government for Germany in the next four years," Bruederle said.

And he recalled his party's role in opposing a proposal for eurozone members, weak and strong, to pool their debt risk by issuing common bonds to raise funds.

The FDP adopted a manifesto again setting out tax reductions, but for the first time backing a minimum wage, but only according to certain criteria and in some sectors or regions.

A failure to see through tax cuts, a key campaign pledge from four years ago, has disappointed many FDP supporters as well as a brief flirtation with a more eurosceptic line and party disunity.

A series of disastrous regional election defeats have followed, with polls consistently showing the party hovering around the five percent threshold for winning seats in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

After clinching 14.6 percent in 2009 in its best ever score, the party faces being cast out into the political wilderness for the first time in its 55-year history after September 22 if it does not win back voter confidence.

That could force Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) into an alliance with the centre-left Social Democrats or the ecologist Greens, or even hand the centre-left opposition a majority.

FDP delegate Christiane Gaehtgens, of northern Lower Saxony state, said despite concerns, the party had made a good start at the Nuremberg congress for the campaign.

"We have seen difficult times but I think that we are now in the starting blocks," she said.

"A Germany without the FDP is no longer Germany," Angela Westfehling, a delegate for the northern port city of Hamburg said, voicing confidence the party would remain in parliament.

© 2013 AFP

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