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German election: A fight for the centre ground

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German election: A fight for the centre ground


“We have the strength” scream the election posters of both Germany’s ruling CDU party and its rival, the Social Democrats. It is a problem for voters as both main parties appear, at a glance, to have similar electoral programmes.

Each is battling for the centre ground. One of the differences is that while the SPD says it wants to protect jobs, the CDU and other conservatives lean towards the family. The two have uneasily shared office for years and certain traits have emerged. Political analyst Daniel Gros said: “In a sense German conservatism, has become even more conservative, even more cautious. By governing together with the SPD and sticking very much to the centre it has remained popular, and that ecourages even more conservatism. The SPD in a certain sense has now become more left[ist], and therefore they are focussing more on important schemes like the financial system and saving jobs.” As one goes right the other goes left, with the SPD determined to keep people in work and calling for an overhaul of the financial system. Analysts say four million Germans will be out of work by 2010 with another million joining them by 2011. SPD leader Franck-Walter Steinmeier has pledged to create four million jobs in the next 10 years as well as introducing an overall minimum wage, which Chancellor Merkel opposes. Fiscal policy is an area where there is light between the parties. For the less well off, the CDU proposes lowering the rate of tax from 14 to 12 per cent, while the SDP promises a 10 per cent rate. The CDU also intends to lower the tax rate for the rich from 45 per cent to 42 per cent for those on 60,000 euros a year. On the other hand, the Social Democrats want a tax hike from 45 to 47 per cent for those earning 125,000 euros per year. The SPD claims it will meet the 2020 deadline to close down Germany’s ageing nuclear plants. The Chancellor would like to extend that deadline and even build new reactors, while at the same time improving wind power facilities. As far as foreign policy goes the Chancellor wants a stronger relationship with Washington. Merkel says Germany’s commitment in Afghanistan will remain, but she wants a shift in focus to concentrate more on civil reconstruction than front line combat. The SPD’s Steinmeier knows that Germans want the troops to come home, and has intimated that withdrawal will be considered.

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