Merkel promises to aid families, no new taxes

AFP-JIJI

Three months before nationwide elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised no new taxes, a balanced budget, family-friendly policies and the ambitious goal of full employment as she presented her party platform Sunday.

She cited globalization and demographics as the nation’s greatest challenges, pledging to help protect German industry in the digital age and support family policies in an aging society with one of the world’s lowest birthrates.

With around 1 percent of the world population, she said Germany needs strong and united European partners, stressing her position that eurozone countries must push structural reforms and slash debt to survive on the world stage.

“Germany won’t do well if Europe isn’t doing well,” she said in Berlin after her conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), unanimously passed the 120-page platform ahead of the Sept. 22 election, where she will seek a third term. “As Germany emerged stronger from the 2008-09 crisis, we want Europe to emerge stronger from the crisis.”

And just as Merkel has preached fiscal discipline in the crisis-battered eurozone, she pledged budgetary restraint at home. In what she called a “paradigm shift from the past 40 years,” she promised “solid finances, a halt to new debt, repayment of old debt, and investment in the future.”

But despite the pledges of fiscal restraint, Merkel earned criticism from within her own ruling coalition for what they saw as an election-year spending spree.

Economy Minister Philipp Roesler, the vice chancellor and head of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), charged that the CDU, in election mode, had succumbed to “the sweet poison of spending.”

The manifesto had no total price tag, but on infrastructure alone, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU earmarked €25 billion ($33 billion) over four years to upgrade the highway system of what is often said to be a car-obsessed nation.

The party — which under Merkel has adopted many signature issues of the center-left opposition — said it will extend tax breaks for families with children and raise pension entitlements for stay-at-home mothers.

It also pledged to work to cap annual housing rent hikes, and push for the introduction of minimum wages in the state and industrial sectors.

On Germany’s energy shift away from nuclear and fossil fuels and toward renewables such as wind and solar, the party said that electricity must remain affordable and that the switch must not harm German industry, while also pledging tax breaks to promote research and development.

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) has under its top candidate, Peer Steinbrueck, struggled to build campaign momentum as it seeks to win power in its alliance with The Greens party. After details of the CDU program were published over the weekend, the SPD lost no time in attacking it. The SPD’s parliamentary chief, Thomas Oppermann, labeled the CDU plans “insincerity in print” and charged that Merkel, having failed to implement real reforms, is now “promising everything under the sun.”

Roesler also criticized the “very soft” wording on taxes that he said fails to explicitly rule out future tax hikes. He pledged that his FDP will not allow tax hikes and warned that Merkel’s conservatives have to face the fact “that they cannot govern alone and have to make compromises.”