Merkel seeks to boost party before vote, clashes with deputy

By Via AP news wire
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel painted a rosy picture of her government's record on Tuesday and assailed the possibility of a future left-wing administration, seeking to boost her struggling party's candidate as she addressed what is expected to be the German parliament's last session before the Sept. 26 election.

Merkel also clashed openly with her deputy, who is a rival party's candidate to succeed her and is currently leading polls, over a comment in which he described people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as “guinea pigs.”

It was an unusually partisan speech by Merkel, who has largely stayed out of the campaign on the grounds that outgoing leaders should hold back, and appeared to reflect mounting concern over her center-right Union bloc's prospects under would-be successor Armin Laschet.

Recent polls have shown the Union slipping into second place, while the center-left Social Democrats have moved into the lead thanks to the relative popularity of Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is also Germany's finance minister. They put the environmentalist Greens whose co-leader Annalena Baerbock is making the party's first run for chancellor, in third place.

They suggest a wide variety of governing coalitions could emerge. As the Union's poll ratings have declined, its leaders have issued increasingly frequent warnings that Scholz and the Greens would bring the hard-left opposition Left Party into government. Scholz has refused to rule that out, but it's clearly not his favored option.

Merkel told lawmakers that the election is “a trend-setting election for our country in the most difficult of times, and it is not irrelevant who governs this country.”

Voters can choose between a government in which the Social Democrats and Greens “accept the support of the Left Party, at least don't rule it out, or a German government ... led by Armin Laschet as chancellor,” she said. “His government will stand for stability, reliably and moderation, and that is exactly what Germany needs.”

Merkel set out what she sees as the achievements of her final term, including progress on legislation to fight climate change and in efforts to promote equal living standards across the country.

She also argued that Germany has made “significant progress” on digitization and expanded infrastructure, although she conceded that “there are still small difficulties in many places.” Critics argue that Germany has much more work to do.

Merkel said that years of efforts to support research have borne fruit, for example in the development in Germany of one of the major vaccines against COVID-19. And she took a direct swipe at Scholz over comments aimed at restoring momentum to the country's vaccination campaign.

Scholz recently said that 50 million people have been fully vaccinated and “we were all the guinea pigs for those who so far have held off.” He said his message as someone who has been vaccinated is that it worked and others should follow.

“Of course, none of us was and is any way a guinea pig when it comes to vaccination," Merkel said. "No one — neither Olaf Scholz nor me, and no one else.”

“We all agree that many more people must still be convinced to get vaccinated, but if we want to convince people that has to be done with arguments and not with, to put it mildly, slanted pictures of ‘guinea pigs,’” Merkel said.

Scholz shot back that people can be convinced with humor.

“If some people don't want to laugh and get worked up about it, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they don't have much to laugh about with a view to their poll ratings,” he said.

Scholz attacked the Union's plans for Germany, contending that another government led by the bloc “would cost Germany prosperity and jobs.”


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