ANGELA Merkel wrapped up her re-election campaign in Germany yesterday with an appeal to defend Europe and her centre-right coalition against Eurosceptics who threaten to break into the Berlin parliament for the first time.
“Mummy Merkel” is almost certain to remain chancellor, but the political landscape in the European Union’s economic powerhouse could still change dramatically in today’s parliamentary election.
With a third of the 62 million voters still undecided and the small Alternative for Germany (AfD) tapping into impatience with Eurozone bailouts, Europe’s most powerful leader appeared set to spend her third term in an awkward Right-Left coalition.
“Lots of people won’t make up their mind until the last minute. Now is the time to reach every undecided voter and get their support,” she told supporters in Berlin, before flying to her Baltic coast constituency for a final campaign stop.
She did not name the AfD, which has emerged over seven months to become the wild card of Germany’s first federal election since the Eurozone debt crisis began.
The AfD wants Greece and other struggling states to be expelled from the single currency.
But Merkel spent half her speech defending the EU, which had been largely ignored in the campaign because her Christian Democrats (CDU) and the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) mostly agree on how to tackle the crisis.
“Europe is economically important, yes, but it is much more than that,” said the 59-year-old chancellor.
“Next year we’ll be thinking back to the start of the First World War, 100 years ago.
“Most of us here have never had to live through war. In the coming years we must keep working for the success of this wonderful continent,” she said to loud applause.
The AfD’s rapid rise in the polls forced the CDU to change tactics at the last minute.
After studiously ignoring it, they brought out respected finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble this week to attack it as “dangerous” for Germany’s economy.
Polls put Merkel’s conservatives about 13 percentage points ahead of the SPD, meaning she will almost certainly become the third post-war chancellor to win a third term today.
The other two were Konrad Adenauer, who oversaw post-war reconstruction, and Helmut Kohl who led the country through reunification.
But her coalition with the struggling Free Democrats (FDP) and the combined leftist opposition are neck-and-neck in the polls, making the vote in Europe’s largest economy too close to call.
She could win a slim majority with the FDP, or be forced into talks with the SPD that could drag on for months and result in changes to her cabinet, including the departure from the finance ministry of Schaeuble, who has been a key player in the crisis.
The AfD’s surge to just under the 5 per cent threshold for entering the Bundestag lower house risks depriving Merkel of her centre-right majority and stirs concern about Euroscepticism – though the party’s impact on policy would be limited.
“Keep cool and vote for our chancellor!” and “Angie” read banners in the crowd of about 4,000 CDU supporters gathered in a Berlin boxing arena just around the corner from SPD headquarters. “Merkel is doing a great job leading the country and deserves another term,” said Wolfgang Schwarz, a 54-year-old lawyer.
Theresa Neubauer, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, said Merkel’s speech was “full of passion” on Europe. “I don’t like the AfD and I hope they don’t get into parliament today,” she added.
But while Merkel has high popularity ratings, not everyone was convinced.
Ingrid Gaukler, a 35-year-old actress, said she did not like Merkel and was “dragged” to the rally by a friend. “I don’t like her energy policies, I don’t like the way the CDU gives preferential tax treatment to married couples and I want to see a minimum wage.
“Her policies are only designed to help the rich,” she said.
Merkel’s challenger Peer Steinbrüeck has had a tough time convincing voters that his SPD can do a better job.
Merkel is credited with leading Europe safely through the debt crisis and ensuring Germany maintains economic growth and an unemployment rate that is near post-unification lows.
Steinbrück, who argues that Merkel has spread income inequality, wants higher taxes on the rich and a minimum wage of ¤8.50 an hour.
Steinbrüeck was finance minister in Merkel’s last “grand coalition” with the SPD from 2005 to 2009, which cost his party millions of votes in 2009. It has since veered further to the Left and would exact a high price for joining another Merkel government.
“In 28 hours you can get rid of them, you can get rid of the most backward-looking, least capable, most loud-mouthed German government since reunification,” the SPD candidate told a final rally in Frankfurt.