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'I'm a wealthy man in the eyes of many citizens'

Published: 10 Dec 2012 14:58 GMT+01:00

Seen as a prickly but bright politician who once served under Merkel as Germany's finance minister, Steinbrück won plaudits for his handling of the 2008 financial crisis. But the 65-year-old father-of-three from the northern German city of Hamburg now has the uphill task of stopping the world's most powerful woman from winning a third term.

He was nominated officially by his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) at a special conference on Sunday in Hannover, with 93.45 percent of the party faithful behind him. Burly and bespectacled, Steinbrück has an abrasive manner that should stand him in good stead when battling the German chancellor on the hustings and spice up the campaign for the election expected to be held in September.

Voters recently had a taste of his fiery debating style in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, notably when he accused Merkel of doing the "dance of the seven veils" on saving Greece and challenging her to "tell it how it is." He has also vowed to make the occasionally drab world of German politics somewhat more colourful, saying: "This should not be a boring election campaign. This should not be a humourless campaign. There must be fun and a few jokes."

And he showed plenty of touches of his acerbic sense of humour during a speech lasting nearly two hours ahead of his nomination.

"Mrs Merkel said she is running the best and most successful government since reunification (in 1990). I have rarely laughed so much," said Steinbrück to tumultuous applause. But he has an uphill task ahead of him, with opinion polls suggesting Merkel's conservatives enjoy a significant lead over the SPD, which has found it difficult to dent her popularity.

Off to a rocky start

He has not been helped by a rocky start to his campaign, first accused of using his influence when finance minister to gain sponsorship for a chess match, then admitting he earned €1.25 million ($1.61 million) for speeches.

"In the eyes of many citizens, I'm a wealthy man," Steinbrück said in his speech in Hannover. "That's correct, but what does a bank statement, what does a standard of living say about a person's readiness and ability to help those citizens who are worse off? Nothing. Nothing at all."

Seen as being towards the right of the centre-left Social Democrats, Steinbrück will have to work hard even to persuade his own party faithful to back him, said political analyst Gerd Langguth.

"He will try to pull together the different wings of the party, especially the left wing. His problem for the campaign is that he doesn't have the whole party behind him," he said.

Seeking to appeal to the left, Steinbrück said he would put social justice and equality at the heart of his election bid.

During his stint in Merkel's coalition cabinet, the trained economist worked closely with her to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis caused by the 2008 collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers, and enjoyed a high international profile. Many in financial circles considered them the "dream team" to lead Germany out of the crisis.

It was "his biggest political act", said one of his biographers, Daniel Friedrich Sturm. He acted with "composure, assurance and determination" to put out the fires, said the author. Like Merkel, "he analyses situations soberly, understands everything very quickly and has a slightly cynical sense of humour," he added.

A man of action

Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at the Free University in Berlin, also said Steinbrück's style was similar to that of Merkel's, although more dynamic. "If Merkel is often described as hesitant, Steinbrück is a man of action," said Neugebauer.

But his sense of humour has at times landed him in hot water and led to one newspaper dubbing him the "most hated man in Switzerland" after he compared the Swiss to "Indians" during a bitter tax row between the two neighbours.

And his off-the-cuff comments to journalists have also prompted unintended consequences. During a period of volatility on the foreign exchange markets, Steinbrück joked: "I love cash and I love a strong euro," causing pandemonium on trading floors worldwide, as twitchy analysts interpreted the joke as German acceptance of a high exchange rate.

A sociable man, who enjoys the occasional cigar and whose briefings to journalists over a few beers have been known to extend late into the night, he was said to have good relations with Merkel when they worked together. He quipped that he hopes to have a glass of wine with her after he wins the election, to toast her years as chancellor.

SPD supporters will hope that his campaign follows the example of his favourite animal, the rhinoceros.

"It starts very slowly but when it gets going, nothing can stop it," said Steinbrück.

AFP/DPA/The Local/mry

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

16:07 December 10, 2012 by lucksi
"In the eyes of many citizens, I'm a wealthy man," Steinbrück said in his speech in Hannover. "That's correct, but what does a bank statement, what does a standard of living say about a person's readiness and ability to help those citizens who are worse off? Nothing. Nothing at all."

But if you are full time employed by and for the people, then make this much money on the side; that does say something...
16:24 December 10, 2012 by raandy
I would like to know how he has used his wealth to improve the lives of those with out, or can he only achieve this from public office.

The problem with most rich is that they feel they can never be too rich.

I never liked this individual ,he always comes across as a little too arrogant for me. He could make an excellent chancellor.however. but I remain dubious.
17:38 December 10, 2012 by lucksi
Of course he used the money to help others. Every time the rich buy stuff, it creates demand. Trickle down economics. So having 10 cars because the ash tray could be full or 5 houses is helping the poor...

The only thing missing from US politics is, if he wants a tax cut.
18:00 December 10, 2012 by IchBinKönig
Ha! I LOVE all the Class Warfare these days. You have money = You are a bad person. I'm glad even the Social Justice Marxist are not exempt. Bet they didn't see that coming. :)

It's easier to pull the rich down for 'Justice', than it is to pull the poor up for 'Justice'. TheLocal readership will be happy to hear that the rich will be poorer. However, the poor will be poorer too. But cutting of your nose to spite your face is just your style anyway. Have fun!
18:11 December 10, 2012 by lucksi
I have nothing against people with money.

As long as their vote and their interests carry the same weight as that of a normal person and they pay their frigging taxes. I'm paying mine and am not dying if I have to pay a percent more if I earn more. Same rules for all.

(And not paying 0,003 percent of your networth as a "fine" to stop an investigation into you either)
18:17 December 10, 2012 by Englishted
"politician who once served under Merkel as Germany's finance minister, "

and that is enough for me to dislike him ,if you vote S.P.D. you don't want them to work for or with the C.D.U. the party should purge itself of those who were involved with that groß coalition.Out with the old and in with the new.

@IchBinKönig,

If you have such contempt for "TheLocal readership" why prey do you involve yourself? what a strange little minded person you must be.
19:25 December 10, 2012 by raandy
ucksi How to you know this cheap Pri^k bought all those expensive cars and trickel down crap.

The Real rich , those that inherited wealth not those with the 6 figure jobs and rented BMWs. The real rich do not squander their money in instant gratification, no they are like scrooge, they talk to their financial advisors.
19:31 December 10, 2012 by IchBinKönig
@EnlisTed

Because, It's just far too much fun to repeatedly dribble the truth like a football off your ugly skull. Ha
00:08 December 11, 2012 by pepsionice
I hate to point this out....but if you wrote a list of the top ten SPD figures who could run for chancellor....all ten have substantial income levels and are "rich"...so there's no pure candidate of the people from the SPD. The CDU labeled them correctly.....the media bought into this mess and the win is in for the CDU at this point. The only un-rich candidates that a SPD could vote for? Over with the Greens.
03:17 December 11, 2012 by PNWDev
King 2pts

Ted 0pts

My money is on King for another English style beatdown. 1812 from the front row.
08:32 December 11, 2012 by frankiep
@Englishted

"and that is enough for me to dislike him ,if you vote S.P.D. you don't want them to work for or with the C.D.U."

So what exactly are you trying to say here? That if one party is the majority that all other parties should refuse to work with them? Or are you trying to say that one party rule should be the result of all elections? Seriously, you constantly complain about and demonize everything and everyone that doesn't fit into your far left worldview. But guess what, this is a democracy (republic really, but lets leave semantics out of this) and that means that there will always be other views besides your own that will be represented in the government. To completely write off someone because he had the nerve to actually work together with another party in a democracy is exactly the type of idealogical extremism one would expect from the far right teabaggers in the US.

Then again, maybe you would prefer a system of government which is always dominated by one party - in which case, disregard everything I just said.
18:23 December 11, 2012 by Englishted
@frankiep

If a party wins the majority then I completely agree that they have a mandate to rule and don't find that a problem .

If however I vote for a party's manifesto in the belief that they intend to keep to those promises (naive maybe) ,and then the do a complete u-turn and disappoint all their supporters then I do feel aggrieved.See how popular the Liberal party is in the U.K. for doing such a thing right now.

I believe in democracy and oppose one party states but for the above reasons which I don't consider wrong I think the S.P.D. in the groß coalition sold out it's principals to retain a scrape of power and I don't want that to happen again under his leadership or anyone else s.

p.s .

I don't understand two comments made by adversaries one of whom is simply contemptible anyway.
19:44 December 11, 2012 by frankiep
I understand what you're saying but I just don't see the logic in it for a second. This is just like saying that when things are going your way that it's best to just take your ball and go home rather than try to do what you can under the circumstances. Yes, principals are of course important, but part of being in a democracy is accepting the fact that are others with different principles. You can not say on one hand that you believe in democracy and then turn around and say that you want nothing to do with trying to work and compromise with other parties - that is not what democracy is. If you want a government where the people in power all meet the required level ideological purity, and where other ideas are no where to be found, then you are going to have to go to a place like China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.
16:35 December 12, 2012 by Englishted
@ frankiep,

On you last point first I would like a government that did not include so many people who were caught cheating in their exams and using a title to which they were not entitled that in any other walk of life would be fraud .

If we adopt your ideas of democracy then every party would be the same run by rich uncaring individuals who only want power and will do any deal to achieve it (oh thats now ) ,are you saying that if I vote on a promise to say end nuclear energy and when they get in power they build more plants because their new found friends in the coalition expect a compromise I should not be angry and just accept they don't have "the required level ideological purity " or as I would phrase it the have lied and I will not trust them again until I see a fundamental change .
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