Angela Merkel has waded into the fray of Germany’s election campaign by dismissing her centre-left vice-chancellor’s attempt to model himself as her continuity candidate, as her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) tries to revive its flagging fortunes with warnings of “chaos” under a leftwing coalition government.
The intervention comes as the Social Democratic party’s (SPD) candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, Merkel’s deputy in her fourth and final cabinet, is doing an increasingly effective job of convincing voters he is more likely to continue the chancellor’s centrist and rational legacy than the candidate representing her own party.
Scholz repeatedly emphasised his and Merkel’s agreements on key policy areas in a TV debate on Sunday, for which polls declared him a clear winner.
But on Tuesday Merkel dismissed the comparison, saying there was a “huge difference for the future of Germany” between Scholz and herself.
“With me as chancellor, there would never be a coalition in which the Left party [Die Linke] is involved,” Merkel said at a joint press conference with the visiting Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, in Berlin. “And it is an open question whether Olaf Scholz shares that stance or not.”
No poll published over the last few days indicates that a coalition between the SPD, the Greens and Die Linke – three broadly leftwing parties – is likely to gain a governing majority at the national vote on 26 September.
But a surge of support for the SPD over the course of the last two weeks means a left-leaning, so-called “R2G” coalition is not completely unimaginable either, with one pull published on Tuesday putting such a power-sharing deal at 47%.
The CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are increasingly focusing their campaigns on such a scenario. A video, shared on CDU and CSU social media channels this week, warns voters they have to make a “decision on the direction of travel” for Germany’s future, that they face a choice between “a strong centre or leftwing chaos”.
A new CSU website, Linksrutsch-verhindern.de (“Stop the leftward drift”), is illustrated with a banner of Scholz and politicians from the Greens and Die Linke in the style of Marx, Lenin and Stalin.
Their messaging has reminded German commentators of a campaign slogan the CDU first trialled in 1994 and has returned to whenever a coalition with Die Linke has been in sight at national or state level: “Let’s stride into the future … but not in red socks.”
The CDU candidate, Armin Laschet, this week said his campaign was more than a nostalgic revival of the “red socks” campaign: “The Left party is a party that does not belong to Germany’s government," hy het gesê.
Few believe either Scholz or the Green candidate, Annalena Baerbock, would genuinely favour governing the country in an alliance with Die Linke, the successor party of the Socialist Unity party that used to govern East Germany.
Die Linke’s commitment to scrapping Nato and ending all German troop deployments abroad sits at odds with the two larger parties’ priorities, and would provide a permanent line of attack for the opposition.
“Anyone who seriously wants to hoax people into believing that Olaf Scholz – let me repeat: Olaf Scholz – will install a communist dictatorship in Germany and prance through the Bundestag with the red flag has got a screw loose,” the SPD deputy chair, Kevin Kühnert, said on Sunday night.
But in the TV debate that preceded his comments, Scholz and Baerback also neglected to emphatically rule out the option of a coalition with Die Linke, which they may see as useful tactical leverage for coalition talks.
Scholz merely said any government led by him would be tied to “indispensable” principles that included a clear commitment to Nato and the European Union, as well as a responsible approach to economic growth and domestic security.