Chancellor Angela Merkel hit the campaign trail with a swipe at German auto executives for a diesel cheating scandal, sounding a pro-labor message she’ll use to counter her Social Democratic Party challenger leading up to the country’s Sept. 24 election.
As polls give Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc a wide lead over the SPD with six weeks of campaigning to go, the chancellor said she’ll push for new technologies while protecting working people living in “a time of uncertainty.” She singled out carmakers for undermining Germany’s economic model and being slow to embrace innovation.
“The way things were swept under the carpet or loopholes in emission tests were massively exploited — that destroys trust,” Merkel told an audience of CDU labor activists in the industrial city of Dortmund on Saturday. “There’s a lot that still needs to be cleared up. When I say industry, I’m thinking first of all of the corporate leadership.”
By accusing one of Germany’s most powerful industries of jeopardizing jobs, Merkel’s criticism fits with her strategy occupying the middle ground between right and left. It’s helped her win re-election twice during 12 years in office, a longevity that makes her the longest-serving western leader and a source of stability at a time of geostrategic turmoil.
Merkel, 63, began her final campaign stretch focused close to home, unveiling a pitch for a mix of economic stability and progress that’s meant to contrast with SPD challenger Martin Schulz’s emphasis on income equality and a fair society. Schulz, 61, who left his post as European Parliament president to take over the SPD, enters the fray with a batch of television interviews on Sunday.
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Germany’s nationwide vote caps an electoral calendar in Europe that has seen a surge in support for anti-immigration, European Union-skeptic populists in the Netherlands and France, only for them to be defeated as the center held. In the U.K., Theresa May’s campaign on a platform of an abrupt break from the EU led to the loss of her majority.
Merkel’s CDU-led bloc leads the SPD, her coalition partner and main rival, by an average of 12 percentage points in the Bloomberg poll tracker.And with an approval rating of 59 percent in a poll this week, the chancellor is more popular than Schulz.
Kicking off her campaign in an SPD stronghold in the Ruhr Valley industrial heartland, Merkel praised Germany’s minimum wage — a Social Democrat-driven project passed by her coalition in 2014 — and pledged action to protect temporary workers from exploitation.
BI Economics report on Germany: Economy Running Hot, Politics Cooling Off
Michaela Uhlig, a local CDU politician in Dortmund, said she appreciated the chancellor’s “strong focus on social policy” as the party seeks to get out the vote.
“Mrs. Merkel also made it clear that the auto-industry managers are responsible for the diesel scandal, not the employees,”Uhlig said in an interview.
While policy gaffes, a terrorist attack, hacker leaks or a return of the refugee crisis could still shift the election’s momentum, Merkel reminded herself of the risks while still on stage after her speech.
“Oh, I almost forgot: The election isn’t decided yet,” she told the crowd of about 1,000 people in Dortmund.