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POLITICS

Conservative’s missteps leave race for Merkel job open in Germany

Armin Laschet, the conservative candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, on Wednesday launched his campaign with polls showing falling support that could leave the outcome of September's vote wide open.

Conservative's missteps leave race for Merkel job open in Germany
Armin Laschet (CDU), the conservative candidate bidding to succeed Merkel, kicks off his election campaign at a boxing training camp in Frankfurt on August 11th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AFP-Pool | Armando Babani

Laschet, 60, once a frontrunner in the race, is now on the back foot as he begins his delayed tour with a dialogue with youths attending a boxing training camp.

The visit in Frankfurt coincides with latest opinion polls showing that backing for Laschet’s CDU-CSU alliance has fallen another three points to 23 percent.

READ ALSO: German chancellor candidate Laschet loses favour with voters: poll

The drop — a precipitous 13 points since the beginning of the year — leaves the conservatives just three points clear of the Greens and four points ahead of their current coalition partner Social Democrats.

“Shocking polls,” exclaimed Bild daily as it pointed out that the results could mean any variety of coalition emerging following the September 26 elections. And that includes combinations leavin Merkel’s conservatives out of the ruling equation.

Laschet, who secured the conservatives’ nomination after a damaging battle with the leader of sister party CSU, Markus Söder, began his quest for the chancellery already under pressure from within his own alliance.

READ ALSO: Frontrunner to succeed Merkel admits plagiarism ‘mistakes’ in book

A whiff of discontent from Soeder’s camp and disunity among the ranks had threatened to derail Laschet’s bid for Germany’s top job.

But Laschet subsequently benefitted from a slump in support for the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock after she was ensnared in a series of scandals including plagiarism allegations.

Yet the tide dramatically turned against Laschet in mid-July, when deadly floods struck western Germany, washing away homes, businesses and critical infrastructure.

As state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia — one of the two hardest-hit regions, the conservative candidate was propelled to the frontline of the disaster response.

His visits to the flood-hit zones however have been marked by serious missteps that have left him sinking in the polls.

‘Serious enough?’

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster that claimed at least 190 lives, Laschet was caught on camera joking and laughing with local officials as German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid homage to victims.

READ ALSO: German chancellor candidate Laschet sparks anger with flood zone laughter

Another more recent visit ended with residents accusing him of failing to offer rapid and concrete aid. He was also widely mocked for wearing inappropriate dress shoes to the disaster zones.

Amid Laschet’s woes, the Social Democrats’ candidate Olaf Scholz, who is also Germany’s finance minister, has emerged as a dark horse in the race for the chancellery.


Social Democratic Party leader and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has emerged as a ‘dark horse’ in the election campaign. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Previously largely written off because it was left seriously trailing by the ecologist Greens, the centre-left party is now eyeing a revival, with the latest polls showing it gaining three percentage points.

And Scholz is topping the popularity charts of potential chancellors, at 26 percent while Laschet is languishing at 12 percent.

“The battle is open,” said SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil, saying that both Laschet and Greens’ leader Baerbock had made “serious mistakes”.

“People are asking themselves who is serious enough and sincere enough to lead this country. And we want to convince them on that point,” he said.

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POLITICS

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

Germany will reinstate its so-called debt brake in 2023 after suspending it for three years to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sources in the finance ministry said Wednesday.

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The government will borrow 17.2 billion euros ($18.1 million) next year, adhering to the rule enshrined in the constitution that normally limits

Germany’s public deficit to 0.35 percent of overall annual economic output, despite new spending as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources said.

The new borrowing set out in a draft budget to be presented to the cabinet on Friday is almost 10 billion euros higher than a previous figure for 2023 announced in April.

However, “despite a considerable increase in costs, the debt brake will be respected,” one of the sources said.

Although Germany is traditionally a frugal nation, the government broke its own debt rules at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and unleashed vast financial aid to steer the economy through the crisis.

READ ALSO: Debt-averse Germany to take on new borrowings to soften pandemic blow

The government has this year unveiled a multi-billion-euro support package to help companies in Europe’s biggest economy weather the fallout from the Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia.

Berlin has also spent billions to diversify its energy supply to reduce its dependence on Russia, as well as investing heavily in plans to tackle climate change and push digital technology.

But despite the additional spending, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has maintained the aim to reinstate the debt brake in 2023.

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