Steinbrück attacks Merkel’s euro ideals

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's struggling rival in next month's general election attempted to revive his campaign at the weekend by attacking her euro policy at his biggest rally to date.

Steinbrück attacks Merkel's euro ideals
Photo: DPA

Peer Steinbrück, candidate for the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD), said Merkel was hurting both Germans and the citizens of the ailing eurozone countries with an unwavering focus on enforcing budgetary rigour rather than spurring growth.

“Cuts, cuts, only cuts – that is not going to get the (eurozone) countries out of trouble,” said Steinbrück, who served as finance minister under Merkel during her first 2005-2009 term in a left-right “grand coalition”.

Blasting a yawning wealth gap in Europe’s top economy, he also called for an across-the-board minimum wage in Germany, which has done without one until now.

“It’s not only fairer but also makes sense economically because it creates spending power,” Steinbrück said, in a full-throated, 40-minute speech that was frequently interrupted by applause. “Freedom, justice, solidarity – those are the values I want to promote as chancellor.”

Steinbrück, 66, was speaking at a celebration of the SPD’s 150th birthday at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate running throughout the weekend, where the party said up to 300,000 people had gathered on Saturday alone.

But he is the clear underdog in the September 22nd vote, as a new poll on Sunday showed.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats have 40-percent support, according to the survey for Bild am Sonntag newspaper, while the SPD scored just 24 percent – one point above its record-low result in the 2009 election.

Merkel’s pro-business coalition partners, the Free Democrats, tallied six percent, potentially giving the allies another ruling majority with five weeks to go until election day.

The race has proved lacklustre so far, with Merkel only returning from a two-week holiday in the Alps last week.

Merkel, who is widely seen as a foregone conclusion to remain chancellor, said on Saturday she could well imagine a re-run of a grand coalition if her alliance with the FDP failed to muster a majority.

“I led a grand coalition once so I wouldn’t be credible at all if I ruled one out,” she told the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, while stressing her strong preference was for a centre-right government.

But she warned against too much pre-election swagger at a rally in the northern town of Cloppenburg Saturday. “The election is many things but it’s certainly not wrapped up,” she said.

Steinbrück has said he would not take part in another grand coalition and the prospect of a second link-up with Merkel fills the party with dread. The SPD watched helplessly as Merkel took credit for the government’s achievements including an improving economy.

Those in the crowd in Berlin said that Steinbrück had touched on issues that mattered to them such as growing economic inequality.

“I was moved by the speech. He touted basic values – it would be great if he could put them in action,” said Christine Rieger, a pensioner from Düsseldorf.

But she admitted it would be an uphill battle. “They won’t manage to beat Merkel, she’s too strong,” she said, adding that she, like about a quarter of Germans, wanted another grand coalition.


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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.