Angela Merkel’s main challenger in September’s German election attacked her record in a combative speech yesterday, accusing the chancellor of stealing policy ideas and cynically profiting from reforms introduced by his Social Democrat Party (SPD).
Peer Steinbrueck, a former finance minister whose campaign to unseat Mrs Merkel got off to a disastrous start last year, tried to reassure the SPD faithful about their prospects in the autumn vote.
“The voters need to decide whether they want a politician whose edges have been filed back to nothing, or someone who isn’t afraid to speak out for what they believe in,” said Mr Steinbrueck, mocking the conservative Mrs Merkel’s cautious leadership style.
The one-hour speech was one of several being given across Bavaria on what is known in Germany as “Political Ash Wednesday”, a long-standing tradition in which politicians spar with each other to mark the end of carnival season.
Mr Steinbrueck served under Mrs Merkel as finance minister in a “grand coalition” Right-Left partnership between 2005 and 2009, but has vowed not to do so again.
“I’m not betting on a grand coalition, I’m betting on victory, not any other scenario,” he said.
Mr Steinbrueck, 66, said Mrs Merkel’s successes in her first term, when Germany weathered the global financial crisis, were largely down to the SPD. He claimed credit for a decision to guarantee German savings deposits and a cash-for-bangers scheme that shielded car-makers.
He also praised Gerhard Schroeder, Mrs Merkel’s SPD predecessor, for labour reforms many economists say created Germany’s current economic strength.