Germany needs more ‘We’ and less ‘I’, says Merkel rival

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GERMANY’S opposition Social Democrats have nominated former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck as their candidate to run for chancellor against Angela Merkel in next September’s election.

Steinbrueck yesterday promised a more just society and called for a united fight against Merkel’s centre-right coalition in a speech aimed at winning over the oft-divided centre-left SPD at a special party congress.

“The financial crisis showed that things have got out of balance in Germany, in Europe and in our society,” said Steinbrueck, who wants higher taxes on the wealthy and a minimum wage, which Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) firmly oppose.

Political analysts say Steinbrueck faces an uphill battle to defeat Merkel, but the SPD does have a strong chance of forming part of a new “grand coalition”.

“Germany needs more ‘We’ and less ‘I’,” said Steinbrueck.

“The gap is growing between rich and poor because of a growing number of under-paying jobs and because of our poorly financed towns and cities.”

His speech was interrupted by Greenpeace hecklers who outwitted the SPD’s security guards to unfurl a banner behind the podium that read: “Did you rake in enough dough?”

The 600 delegates booed before the banner was hauled off the wall. Steinbrueck, who momentarily stood in stunned silence, has come under attack for earning €1.25 million as an after-dinner speaker during the past three years.

Merkel is seeking a third term and polls show the CDU, with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), holding a steady ten-point lead over the SPD – about 40 per cent to 30 per cent.

But the CDU/CSU’s coalition partners, the Free Democrats, have fallen below the 5 per cent threshold needed to win seats in parliament. Political scientists say a “grand coalition” with the CDU/CSU and the SPD is the most likely outcome.