ZWICKAU, Germany — Chancellor Angela Merkel shouted down anti-euro hecklers at a campaign rally in eastern Germany late Monday, saying the single currency benefits Europe’s biggest economy.
Merkel, addressing a crowd in the Saxon town of Zwickau that organizers from her Christian Democratic Union party put at about 6,000, rebuffed dissenters wielding placards suggesting that weaker euro countries were holding Germany to ransom.
Justifying her course, she said that she won’t let up on demands for economic overhauls across Europe if she wins a third term.
“I am firmly convinced that the euro is good for us,” the chancellor told the rally late Monday. “Your screaming isn’t going to make it any better either.” The German government has “always insisted that our help is tied to conditions,” she said. “We have to stay the course.”
Merkel is deploying a dual message in an effort to mount a get-out-the-vote operation before the Sept. 22 elections: that her policy during the euro-region crisis is bearing fruit, and Germans are better off after eight years of her chancellorship. Her approach will be tested on Sept. 1 in the only debate of the campaign with her Social Democratic challenger Peer Steinbrueck.
Merkel’s case was helped by a rise in German business confidence in August to the highest level in 16 months. The economy expanded 0.7 percent in the second quarter, helping the 17-nation euro region climb out of its longest recession.
While polls suggest voters back Merkel’s step-by-step approach to handling the turmoil that began in Greece in late 2009 at the start of her second term, Steinbrueck has seized on the crisis as a vehicle to attack the chancellor, saying that she isn’t being straight on the true costs to taxpayers.
In Zwickau, Merkel contrasted her stewardship of the German economy with the opposition’s plans to pool euro-area debt in a so-called redemption fund.
“That’s something I will not do,” she said. In Europe, “if you are for linking solidarity and a sense of responsibility, the CDU is the right place for you.”
For all the rhetoric, “there is in fact no huge disagreement” between the two main parties on euro policy, according to an Aug. 23 Natixis SA note. “Both stress the necessity of structural reforms and sound public finances. Thus, euro politics are no promising issue for party profiling.”
Support for Merkel’s Christian Democratic bloc rose one percentage point to 39 percent in a weekly INSA poll for Tuesday’s Bild newspaper, while her Free Democratic coalition partner also gained a point to 6 percent. Steinbrueck’s SPD and its Green party ally each dropped a point, to 25 percent and 14 percent respectively. The Left Party was down a point at 7 percent. INSA polled 2,128 voters on Aug. 23-26. No margin of error was given.
Zwickau, which lies about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Czech border, lays claim to the title of eastern Germany’s No. 1 motor town. A center of auto production in East German times, when it was famed for manufacturing the Trabant, it is now home to a Volkswagen AG plant that is the largest in the former east.
Investment by carmakers such as VW and Porsche SE has helped lower unemployment in the six states of the former East Germany to 9.9 percent, lower than the 12.1 percent euro average, and less than the 11 percent in France.
Merkel’s aim “is to encourage people to tackle the structural changes that are still needed while trying to claim a lot of the success for the CDU,” Hans Vorlaender, a political scientist at Dresden Technical University, said by phone.
The east of Germany may deliver “the decisive decimal points at the end of the day,” and the Zwickau rally is “an important push to make it clear to voters the election is hardly a done deal.”
Merkel told the crowd that in her time as chancellor the number of German jobless has fallen from more than 5 million to less than 3 million. “But of course we can’t just stop pushing,” she said. “We have to stay the course so we can be successful together in future.”
She denounced opposition plans to raise taxes as a sign the opposition is attempting to mobilize “jealousy” in the final weeks of the campaign.
Justifying the need to strive for balanced budgets, Merkel said it was “because we don’t want to become dependent, as we saw with some European countries that no one wanted to lend money to anymore.”
Merkel returns to northern Germany Tuesday with rallies in Winsen outside Hamburg, and then in Rendsburg, west of Kiel. Steinbrueck is due to appear in Kiel Tuesday. Both campaigners plan to take a break on Aug. 31 to prepare for the debate in Berlin the following day.
“My government and I have pursued a particular course and I would like to stay on it,” Merkel said in Zwickau. The rest of Europe has to push to maintain prosperity, and “this is a fight I want to continue,” she said. “Every vote counts.”
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