Germany’s main opposition the SPD have gathered for a congress, buoyed by opinion polls that show the centre-left party bouncing back from a surprise defeat in last year’s election.
Leaders are confident that the government’s policies could drive voters towards the SPD.
Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel said: “(Chancellor) Merkel is opening up gaps among the middle class. They are the ones who are interested in getting ahead, education and performance, but who also support social equality, the environment, and consumer protection.”
The latest research puts the SPD on 24 per cent support and for the first time ever their former junior coalition partners – the Greens – on a par also on 24 per cent.
Another alliance between them would leave Merkel’s Christian Democrat alliance — on 29 per cent — foundering.
The SPD is riding a renewed wave of public opposition to the centre-right government’s plans to extend the life of Germany’s nuclear industry.
But for Sigmar Gabriel there also remains the problem of Thilo Sarrazin — an SPD member and director of Germany’s Central Bank — who has criticised Muslim immigrants.
Gabriel wants to expel him but pollsters warn he could face a damaging revolt from conservative anti-immigration members of the party.