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Merkel’s Former Finance Minister to Run against Her

Published: September 28, 2012 | 4:15 pm
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Germany’s leading opposition party on September 28 nominated a quick-witted former finance minister to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year’s general election, in a jolt to a race that had appeared heavily weighted in favor of the incumbent.

The former minister, Peer Steinbrück, 65, vowed in remarks following the announcement of his nomination to put the center-left Social Democrats in a “strategic position” to build a government with the Green Party, a clear rejection of the so-called grand coalition with Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats that ruled from 2005 to 2009.

“I accept this challenge to win the next election with and for the S.P.D.,” Mr. Steinbrück said, using the German abbreviation for the Social Democratic Party. “We want to replace this government.”

The Social Democrats’ executive committee will convene on October 1 to formalize Mr. Steinbrück’s nomination. Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s chairman, who had also been considered a possible candidate, said the leadership agreed two weeks ago to nominate Mr. Steinbrück after Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the party’s parliamentary leader, withdrew from the contest.

Many Germans remember Mr. Steinbrück, 65, as an effective finance minister and a man of action from the early days of the debt crisis in the euro zone during his tenure as finance minister under Ms. Merkel from 2005 to 2009.

“This is a good day for the S.P.D.,” Mr. Steinmeier said. “Peer Steinbrück is, I am firmly convinced, not just the best candidate, but will he will be the right chancellor for our country,”

Germany’s Green Party, the Social Democrats’ preferred coalition partner, welcomed Mr. Steinbrück’s nomination. The two parties have ruled together in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, since May, when the Social Democrats soundly defeated Ms. Merkel’s party in a regional election there.

“We don’t just want a change of government, we want a change of policy,” Claudia Roth, a member of the Greens’ leadership team, told reporters in Berlin.

Although Mr. Steinbrück has also won endorsement of former Chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Schmidt — the Social Democratic Party’s elder statesman, who enjoys an iconic role in Germany’s political landscape — his nomination is not without risk.

Outspoken and at times abrasive, Mr. Steinbrück predicted in 2008, in the wake of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, that the United States’ days as a financial superpower were numbered. One year later, he clashed with the Swiss over his crackdown on tax havens, likening Germany’s Alpine neighbors to “Indians” running scared from the cavalry.

Last year, Mr. Steinbrück was upbraided by Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s widely respected finance minister, for heckling him during a session in Parliament

“If you want to become chancellor, you better learn some manners,” said Mr. Schäuble, drawing attention to his predecessor’s impulsive temperament, which could become a liability in a country that values moderation in politics.

Yet the Social Democrats face the difficulty of trying to unseat a widely popular chancellor. The most recent poll, conducted by ZDF, a public broadcaster, before reports of Mr. Steinbrück’s candidacy emerged, showed him with only 36 percent support, with more than half of voters in favor of the chancellor.

Still, there is a belief that Mr. Steinbrück has the strongest chances of the Social Democrats’ three possible candidates.

“The big question for the S.P.D. is: ‘Who has the best chance to beat Ms. Merkel?’ ” Frank Decker, a political scientist at Bonn University, told Reuters. “To me that’s Mr. Steinbrück.”

Source: New York Times


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