BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel said the economic collapse of East Germany should serve as a lesson for Europe, since there’s no alternative to hard work to remain globally relevant.
Merkel, addressing a campaign rally Tuesday in the eastern town of Finsterwalde, south of Berlin, flaunted her credentials as a fellow one-time citizen of the former German Democratic Republic as she presented her vision for a more competitive Europe to the crowd of about 3,000.
To sustain Europe’s high level of social expenditure relative to the rest of the world, Europeans must innovate, “be better than the others” and “exert ourselves,” Merkel said. “Everyone who lived in the GDR knows that: Whoever is not economically productive, whoever can’t sell products, will get into difficulties.”
Merkel and her Social Democratic challenger, Peer Steinbrueck, are honing their respective messages as they shift their focus to winning over undecided voters less than three weeks out from the Sept. 22 elections.
While polls show the chancellor’s Christian Democratic bloc leading the main opposition Social Democrats by 14-17 percentage points, the dynamics of coalition building mean the race is far closer.
In Finsterwalde, about half way between Berlin and Dresden, Merkel appealed to voters to cast both their ballots for her Christian Democratic Union party, saying it’s the second vote “that keeps me chancellor.”
“You know me a little,” Merkel said. “You know that I consider something and then I act. And that’s the right way.”
The chancellor was speaking hours after asking Germans to give her a third term to strengthen the economy during a speech to lower-house lawmakers in Berlin, clashing with Steinbrueck over the balance of her second term.
“We’ve had four lost years under Merkel,” Steinbrueck told lawmakers, calling for “a new start.” Merkel said opposition plans to raise income taxes were a mistake that would jeopardize the success of Europe’s biggest economy.
Merkel, 59, and Steinbrueck, 66, stepped up their rhetoric after sparring in the campaign’s only nationally televised debate on Sept. 1, an encounter whose outcome has yet to be fully measured in the polls.
Merkel’s CDU and its CSU Bavarian sister party dropped one percentage point to 40 percent in a weekly Forsa poll for Stern magazine published Wednesday, as her Free Democratic coalition partner held at 5 percent. The Social Democrats gained a point to 23 percent and their Green party allies were unchanged at 11 percent.
The Left Party dropped a point to 9 percent, and the anti- euro AfD party had 4 percent, up a point to its best score. The poll of 2,502 people was taken Aug. 27-Sept. 2. The results have a margin of error of as much as 2.5 percentage points.
Parties that are below the 5 threshold needed to win parliamentary seats have a total of 12 percent backing in the poll, meaning that half the rest — 44 percent — is enough for a majority, Stern said. Hence with a combined 45 percent, Merkel’s current coalition would have enough support to form a government if replicated on Election Day, according to Stern.
While 38 percent of those polled said that Merkel won the debate and 44 percent Steinbrueck, it’s still not possible to say how the exchange played with undecided voters, Forsa chief Manfred Guellner told Stern. “How many of those people will actually vote SPD on Sept. 22 is unclear,” he said.
Merkel is campaigning on her record of tackling the debt crisis that spread from Greece as well as her stewardship of the Germany economy, with joblessness near a two-decade low and the budget balanced.
Steinbrueck, Merkel’s first-term finance minister, says she has failed to address the rich-poor gap as the economy rebounded, while wielding a “savings club” over the euro zone.
For all the “unusually challenging” times of her second term, “these were four good years for Germany all in all,” Merkel told the lower house, the Bundestag, Tuesday. “The hallmark of our policies is reliability.”
Merkel presided over the weekly Cabinet meeting in Berlin Wednesday before holding a rally at 5 p.m. in the western German town of Trier, famed for its Roman gate, the Porta Nigra. She’ll then break off the campaign trail for two days to attend the summit of leaders of 20 leading economies in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 5-6.
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