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26th Feb 2024

Merkel clashes with rival on euro-rescue, US spying

  • Four moderators and two candidates - the tv debate had an unusual format (Photo: ARD)

A 90-minute TV debate between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat rival Peer Steinbrueck on Sunday (1 September) mostly revolved around domestic topics, with some tense exchanges on the US spying scandal and the eurozone crisis.

Seen by 12 million Germans, the debate was the first and last before the 22 September elections and the only chance for Steinbrueck, who trails Merkel in the polls, to score some points.

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  • Merkel supporters in front of the tv studio (Photo: Valentina Pop)

If anything, the debate put Steinbrueck on an even footing with Merkel.

Snap polls after the debate ran by three different pollsters all gave different results, one putting Steinbrueck clearly in the lead (49% to 44%) a second one Merkel (40% to 33%) and a third one giving her a one-percent lead over him (44% to 43%).

"If I would have been chancellor, I wouldn't have called a press conference about the US mass surveillance of Germans only to say: 'Let's wait'," Steinbrueck said.

Merkel retorted that she prefers to "think first and then act."

She said she has "no reason not to trust the National Security Agency" - the US secret service behind the mass surveillance of online users. But a few minutes later she appeared to contradict herself. When pressed by one of the moderators, Merkel said: "Of course trust was lost between Germany and the US."

On the euro-crisis and the third Greek bailout, the punches were more evenly distributed. Steinbrueck said that the mere talk of a third bailout is a proof that Merkel's recipe for troubled euro-countries is failing.

"Nobody knows how much it will cost to stabilise the euro, it all depends if the Greeks and Portuguese will be able to repay their debt totally or partially," Steinbrueck said.

Merkel pointed out that Steinbrueck's Social Democrats have voted in favour of all the bailouts so far.

"If you say the entire euro-rescue policy has failed just because of a bailout that was already mentioned in 2012 and was no surprise to anyone, then it means you didn't vote out of conviction for the stability of the euro. And you wouldn't have said this if it was no election campaign," she said.

Speaking to EUobserver after the debate, finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble admitted that Steinbrueck may have been a good speaker, but "as a former finance minister he should know that the issues are far more complex in reality than how he portrayed them."

On the possibility that Greece and Portugal will never repay all their loans, Schaeuble said: "Who doubts that they will not repay their debt? They are making great sacrifices and the international markets have started to trust Greece - the interest rates on their bonds have fallen from 25 to 10 percent. We should have respect for all the efforts they are making."

"As for Portugal, it will exit the bailout programme next year and Ireland even this year," the minister said.

Meanwhile, the head of the Social Democratic Party, Sigmar Gabriel said that Steinbrueck's clear victory showed a "competent, feisty and funny" candidate who would make a great chancellor.

On social media, however, neither of the two candidates managed to gain as much attention as Stefan Raab, one of the four moderators who normally hosts entertainment shows.

Raab's provocative questions made him the 'winner' of the debate in the eyes of mass tabloid Bild.

Meanwhile, the fact that Merkel chose to wear a discreetly patriotic necklace displaying Germany's national colours raised the most excitement on Twitter.

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