German politics updates
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Germany’s ruling centre-right has stepped up its election campaign rhetoric on opponent Olaf Scholz, attacking the frontrunner to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor over his policies on Europe.
A succession of heavyweights from the Christian Democratic Union has accused Scholz — a Social Democrat (SPD) who is finance minister in Merkel’s ruling cross-party coalition — of policies that would weaken the euro and leave Germany exposed to the debts of other countries in the eurozone.
The interventions reflect rising anxiety in CDU ranks at the SPD’s widening poll lead, with just over two weeks until the election. A survey by Kantar for Focus magazine published on Thursday put the SPD on 25 per cent, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU on 21 per cent, the Greens on 17 per cent and the pro-business Free Democrats on 12 per cent.
Merkel is stepping down as Germany’s chancellor, leaving an open election race that is expected to lead to an indecisive outcome months of fraught coalition talks.
Paul Ziemiak, secretary-general of the CDU, accused the SPD of wanting to turn Europe into a “debt-and-transfer union, where German taxpayers, pensioners and savers will in future be on the hook for the debts of other countries”.
That view was echoed by Friedrich Merz, a conservative who is head of the CDU’s economic policy team.
“Herr Scholz wants a debt union, Herr Scholz wants a soft euro,” he told Die Welt. “Herr Scholz wants banking union, where the customers of German regional savings banks and co-operative banks end up on the hook for banks that are going belly up in Italy and France.”
The SPD condemned the Merz and Ziemiak interviews, pointing out that they came just hours after Armin Laschet, the conservatives’ candidate for chancellor, signalled the party’s Francophile and pro-European credentials by travelling to Paris to meet French president Emmanuel Macron.
“It doesn’t fit together when on one day Laschet presents himself as a European . . . and the next day lets his secretary general or Friedrich Merz campaign against Europe with cheap slogans,” said Carsten Schneider, the SPD’s chief whip.
Critics also pointed out that the CDU’s own manifesto backs EU banking and capital markets unions.
“Aah, banking union, that grubby left-green project that was adopted in 2013 by . . . [former CDU finance minister] Wolfgang Schäuble,” tweeted Lucas Guttenberg, deputy director of the Jacques Delors Centre at the Hertie School in Berlin. “This is getting embarrassing.”
Laschet has sought to boost the party’s flagging fortunes by warning of the dangers of a left-wing, SPD-led government in Germany including the Greens and Die Linke, a hard-left party that wants to disband Nato. Scholz and Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate for chancellor, have both refused to rule out such an alliance.
Merz said in such a situation it was right to warn of the risks of a “massive shift to the left in Germany [and] Europe”.
But the attempt to crank up the pressure on Scholz and the SPD was undermined by evidence of enduring tensions between the CDU and the Bavarian CSU.
Many in the CSU are still angry that Laschet was nominated as the CDU/CSU’s joint candidate for chancellor in April, over Markus Söder, the CSU leader and Bavarian prime minister whose approval ratings have always outshone Laschet’s.
On Thursday, that anger bubbled to the surface. “Of course we’d be doing much better [in the polls] with Markus Söder,” Markus Blume, the CSU’s secretary general, told Spiegel magazine.