Merkel’s challenger lists red lines for governing

BERLIN (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-left challenger set out yesterday what he said are non-negotiable aims for entering Germany’s next government, among them ensuring equal pay for men and women and insisting that the retirement age mustn’t rise beyond 67.

Martin Schulz is trying to boost his Social Democrats’ (SDP) flagging campaign in the final stretch before Germany’s September 24 election. Polls show the party trailing Merkel’s conservatives by 13 to 16 points, and no majority for any feasible Schulz-led coalition.

That suggests their best chance of governing is continuing as Merkel’s junior coalition partners in a “grand coalition” of Germany’s biggest parties. But Schulz insists that half of voters are undecided and he still has a chance.

“Anyone who wants to remove Merkel must vote for Schulz,” he said at a news conference. “Anyone who votes for other parties will get Merkel.”

Martin Schulz (centre), leader of Germany’s social democratic SPD party and candidate for Chancellor, leaves after giving a press conference in Berlin yesterday. – AFP

Schulz set out four points on which he said his party won’t compromise: equal chances in education, including scrapping kindergarten fees; equal pay; holding the retirement age; and “protecting German and European values in a stable European Union (EU).”

Schulz also renewed a pledge to oppose an “armament spiral” and said he won’t – unlike Merkel – commit to dedicating two per cent of gross domestic product to defence spending according to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) guidelines. Germany is one of many countries falling short, with the figure currently at 1.23 per cent.

The US administration has stepped up pressure on NATO allies to reach two per cent, but Schulz’s Social Democrats (SDP) have questioned for months whether NATO ever agreed to it as a firm target. They point to a 2014 summit declaration that said allies “aim to move toward the two per cent guideline within a decade.”