German SPD pushes Merkel on to defensive over aid for Greece

German Social Democratic leaders stepped up their attacks on Chancellor Angela Merkel over the costs of the debt crisis, accusing her of trying to conceal the need for a third Greek aid program until after the election.

SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrueck seized on comments made by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble yesterday that Greece will need additional funds, saying it was proof the government’s crisis policies weren’t working. Merkel wants to “shove all the hot potatoes” until after the ballot, he said.

Former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, joining Steinbrueck on the campaign trail in the western town of Detmold, mocked Merkel for having “the wrong glasses on” and contradicting her finance minister on Greece. “You won’t win the trust of voters by covering up and obscuring, only by telling them straight,” Schroeder said.

Less than five weeks before the Sept. 22 vote, the SPD is trying to turn Merkel’s crisis-resolution policies of the past three years against her to narrow the gap in the polls. Merkel’s coalition extended its lead over the SPD and its Green party ally to 12 percentage points in a Forsa poll released today.

“The poll scores clearly underline the lack of appetite in the electorate for change,” Peter Matuschek, chief political analyst for Forsa, said by phone. “It’s becoming very difficult to see where the SPD is going to get that winning issue, that winning persona who will motivate its former supporters.”

Backing for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, rose one point to 41 percent in the Forsa poll for Stern magazine and RTL television, while her Free Democratic coalition partner also gained a point to 6 percent. That score would allow Merkel to repeat her current government if replicated on Election Day.

Steinbreuck’s SPD dropped a point to 22 percent and the Greens held at 13 percent. The anti-capitalist Left Party had 8 percent, also unchanged. Forsa polled 2,502 voters on Aug. 13- 19. The results have a margin of error of as much as 2.5 percentage points.

Merkel continues campaigning in southern Germany today with stops in Baden-Wuerttemberg after visiting Bavaria yesterday, where she laid a wreath at the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, the first visit by a German chancellor.

“We don’t want to forget that for six decades we’ve been living in peace,” Merkel told a rally later. Countries sharing a currency will never go to war, Merkel said, while warning that “solidarity isn’t enough in the end if you don’t create the conditions for all of us to be successful.”

Schaeuble, speaking at the first of four campaign rallies he held yesterday in and around Hamburg, made his clearest indication yet that the euro region will eventually resort to the “further measures and assistance” for Greece that were agreed in principle by the bloc’s finance ministers in November last year.

Steinbrueck and Schroeder sought to portray the comments as a reversal from prior policy and at odds with Merkel.

“One gets the impression that this government suffers from short-term memory loss,” Steinbrueck said. “It may be that we have to help them again, but this time the money can’t just be sunk — it has to be used to bring growth and jobs.”

Matuschek at Forsa said it’s plausible that by airing Greece’s problems now rather than closer to the vote Schaeuble wanted “to nip the issue in the bud.”

“The point is he’s not putting support for the CDU at risk as SPD criticism of Merkel’s handing of the crisis just bounces off her,” Matuschek said. “Voters very clearly credit Merkel with more competence to manage the twists and turns of the crisis than Steinbrueck and the SPD and, more to the point, Steinbrueck isn’t saying he’d do anything differently.”

Schroeder, who served as Germany’s chancellor from 1998 to 2005, said his party had a shot at victory in the final weeks. He referred to the 2005 election, in which he narrowed Merkel’s lead of about 14 points at a similar stage in the campaign to 1 percentage point on Election Day.

“That was just about the same situation as now: the opinion polls put us at less than 30 percent,” Schroeder, 69, told the Detmold rally. “Many people were writing ‘Schroeder, you don’t even need to run.’”

Schroeder’s performance eight years ago forced Merkel into a so-called grand coalition with the SPD, a configuration that polls show parties may have to resort to again. He said that the economic improvement Germany has witnessed was down to his policies and not Merkel.

Under Merkel “as good as nothing has been done,” Schroeder said. In economic policy and education, Germany “is taking a step backwards.”