Trailing in polls and struggling within his party, Christian Democratic Union leader Armin Laschet has presented a 100-day plan to slash bureaucracy and deliver tax relief if he secures victory in Germany’s federal election.
After losing a second television debate on Sunday night, however, the 60-year-old has less than two weeks to close a five-point gap to the Social Democratic Party (SPD) if he is to secure a fifth term for the CDU on September 26th.
“We are pushing to be the strongest force on election evening so that no one can build a coalition against us,” he said on Monday.
Mr Laschet’s greatest challenge is to explain to voters why the incumbent CDU is the party to deliver 100 days of dynamic change, some 5,775 days after Angela Merkel came to power in 2005.
With taxes a key election battleground, the CDU plan promises to boost tax breaks for commuters and would-be home-owners, as well as offering interest-free state loans to install rooftop solar panels.
“We want to be a climate-neutral industrial country that secures the jobs we have, creates new jobs and do this all in a socially cohesive way,” he said.
In the second of three television debates, this time broadcast on ARD and ZDF public television, the CDU, SPD and Green leaders clashed on the economy, post-election coalition options and Mr Scholz’s performance as finance minister. Mr Scholz secured his second win in two post-debate telephone polls: a third of ZDF voters and 41 per cent of ARD voters found him the most convincing.
For the first time, however, Mr Scholz faces pushback in the campaign over how as finance minister he handled a series of major financial scandals involving the banking regulator and a anti-money laundering agency – both of which report to his ministry.
“He can’t talk everything down and not take responsibility as minister for things for which he has responsibility,” said Mr Laschet, minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, insisting Mr Scholz had failed his “oversight obligation”. “If my [state] finance minister acted in that way we’d have a problem.”
Mr Scholz attempted to blunt the accusations by accusing Mr Laschet of distorting the facts, in particular a complicated affair involving Germany’s anti-money laundering agency that prompted a raid last Thursday on the Berlin finance ministry.
After eight years of CDU finance ministry control, Mr Scholz insisted he had modernised – and expanded – oversight of key government agencies.
The second key issue on which the two men clashed was Mr Scholz’s refusal to rule out entirely an SPD-led coalition with the Greens and the far-left Linke. The SPD leader has insisted he will not govern with any party that questions the European Union or is anti-Nato – which fits with key Linke policies. SPD officials say an outright refusal would divide the unusually united centrist and leftist camps within the SPD.
Otherwise, the debate was largely a two-handed affair with both CDU and SPD leaders – whose parties have ruled together for 12 of the last 16 years – blaming each other for Germany’s social reform backlog and future uncertainty over climate and energy issues.
Minister for finance Olaf Scholz of the SPD, Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock and CDU leader Armin Laschet participating in a television debate in Berlin on Sunday. Photograph: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images
That allowed Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock to present her party as more interested in solutions than finger-pointing.
Germany’s next government, she argued, “will be the last that can still actively influence the climate crisis”. She is calling for it to phase out coal entirely by 2030, eight years earlier than the end date set by the outgoing Merkel administration.
One post-debate poll saw viewers put Mr Laschet in second place, while another saw the Green leader as runner-up.
Every second viewer said they were surprised and impressed by Ms Baerbock’s performance. She was also the favourite of every second viewer under 30.
Sunday’s television debate, the second of three, attracted 11 million viewers but was criticised for only a glancing reference to Europe and no foreign policy questions .
Asked about that on Monday, Mr Laschet said he could “talk for half an hour” on the EU, China and Afghanistan – if questioned on them. He expressed hope that the final of three debates next Sunday will reflect the “global expectations” facing Germany’s next federal government.