Merkel embarks on Germany's 'strangest' campaign





Berlin (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fresh from a three-week Alpine holiday, embarked Saturday on what may be the most bizarre election campaign in the country's post-war history.

After months of studiously ignoring the race for the September 24 election, Merkel kicked off a series of rallies across the country with a campaign speech in the western city of Dortmund delivering an upbeat message on jobs.

"We are set to reach full employment by 2025, that is to say an unemployment rate under three percent, and I believe we can achieve it," said Merkel of a key objective of her centre-right Christian Democrat Union (CDU).

As of July the German jobless rate stood at 5.7 percent, relatively low among European nations. "We have today 44 million employed in Germany. Those are really very good figures," the 63-year-old told her supporters.

But just six weeks before the European Union's top economic power and most populous nation goes to the polls, Germans have been barely taking notice of the election.

After 12 years in power, Merkel, frequently called the world's most powerful woman and Europe's de facto leader, looks set to win a fourth term.

Gone are the warnings of her political demise heard at the height of the 2015 refugee influx in Europe, when nearly 900,000 asylum seekers entered the country.

Her conservative Christian Democrats lead their closest rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), by a 12-to-17-point margin, meaning it would take a political earthquake to shift the field at this point.

"It is probably the strangest election race in the history of the Federal Republic," Heribert Prantl of the national broadsheet Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote this week.

"There is no wind, never mind a wind of change."

- 'Shadowboxer' -

Merkel's main challenger, SPD leader and former European Parliament spokesman Martin Schulz, has led what many commentators call a plodding campaign.

But they acknowledge that there is little mood around for renewal, as Germans look out on a turbulent world unsettled by US President Donald Trump and Brexit.

After high-drama election campaigns in the United States, Britain and France, Germans appear relieved that their race is so low-stakes.

"The German elections are very difficult to understand from a foreign point of view because there's hardly any polarisation," political scientist Timo Lochocki of the German Marshall Fund of the US told AFP.

Meanwhile the frustrated Social Democrats are faced with an enemy who refuses to engage, with German media nicknaming the lonely Schulz the "Shadowboxer".

"The SPD can't polarise the campaign alone; the CDU doesn't answer, so (the campaign) is dying," said Lochocki.

He cited three main reasons for German satisfaction with the status quo: the rude health of the economy with solid growth, Merkel's right-left "grand coalition" government creating broad consensus around contentious issues such as immigration and security, and a pact by mainstream parties to shun the political fringe.

The CDU has plumped for a soft-focus campaign centred on patriotism and Merkel herself.

The party drew ridicule for its soporific slogan "For a Germany in which we live well and happily", and a campaign poster featuring a young female voter literally asleep in a meadow.

Schulz this month accused Merkel of eroding German democracy with her barely perceptible re-election bid.

"A chancellor who does not tell voters what she intends to do is neglecting her duty and that endangers the future of the country," he warned.

Given she has been in power since 2005, making her the longest-serving current leader of any major Western democracy, Merkel still enjoys a remarkable personal popularity rating of around 60 percent -- nearly double that of Schulz.

- 'Curiosities' of race -

In a column called "Wander Woman" this week, Rene Pfister of Der Spiegel noted the fascination Germans had with the down-to-earth images of Merkel hiking in gear she has been wearing year after year that were splashed on the pages of newspapers and magazines during her holiday.

"It is among the curiosities of this election campaign that even Merkel's summer holiday led her poll numbers to climb," Pfister said, noting that Merkel's no-nonsense style mirrored Germans' own view of themselves.

The only source of suspense at this stage seems to be whether Merkel will manage to eke out her first absolute majority to govern alone, or which of three possible smaller parties she would court for a coalition.

Sueddeutsche's Prantl noted the irony that Germany's real political battle -- over the post-Merkel era -- would apparently have to wait until after the election.

"September starts the clock on a time after Angela Merkel when the fight for the future of the CDU and SPD can begin in earnest," he said.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Austrian conservatives bring far right into government
Austrian conservatives bring far right into government
  • World
  • 2017-12-16 18:48:19Z

By Kirsti Knolle, Shadia Nasralla and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is set to become the only western European country with a far-right party in government after the anti-immigration Freedom Party and Sebastian Kurz's conservatives struck a coalition deal to share power almost

EU more unified on borders, but migrant divisions remain
EU more unified on borders, but migrant divisions remain

BRUSSELS (AP) - European Union leaders ended a summit Friday deeply divided over how to get thousands of stranded immigrants out of Italy and Greece, with an eastern bloc of nations boasting it was resisting pleas to take in refugees in a "battle" with other EU member states.

'Bad news for our enemies': EU launches defense pact

By Robin Emmott BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union nations, now unfettered by Britain's decision to quit, achieved a 70-year-old ambition on Thursday to integrate their defenses, launching a pact between 25 EU governments to fund, develop and deploy armed forces together. European Council President Donald Tusk deemed the move "bad news for our enemies". First blocked by the French parliament in the 1950s and later by Britain, which feared creation of an EU army, the pact aims to end the squandering of billions of euros by splintered defense policies.

Nearly a third of all weapons used by Isil on the battlefield were manufactured in EU, report claims 
Nearly a third of all weapons used by Isil on the battlefield were manufactured in EU, report claims 

Nearly a third of all weapons used by Isil on the battlefield were manufactured in the European Union, according to the most thorough investigation yet into how the jihadist group acquired its vast arsenal.   Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants relied heavily on guns and ammunition produced by Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany, a report released on Thursday by Conflict Armament Research (CAR), an international organisation that documents weapons trafficking in war zones, revealed. The only bigger producer of weapons used by the group was found to be China. The revelation sits uncomfortably with the EU's effort to degrade the group's military capacity, CAR...

David Cameron criticises Donald Trump for 'fake news' attacks on media
David Cameron criticises Donald Trump for 'fake news' attacks on media

David Cameron has joined the chorus criticising US President Donald Trump for his tirades against the media, saying his attacks on "fake news" was undermining democracy.  In his first public speech since stepping down after his failed attempt to win a vote to stay in the European Union last year, the former prime minister said Mr Trump was corrupting society and diverting attention from real abuses through his attacks on outlets like CNN and the BBC.  "President Trump: 'fake news' is not broadcasters criticising you, it's Russian bots and trolls targeting your democracy, pumping out untrue stories day after day, night after night," Mr Cameron said at an anti-corruption...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Latin America

facebook
Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.