Merkel Rivals Plead For Stronger Europe In Final Election Debate

Merkel rivals plead for stronger Europe in final election debate

Frankfurt, Sept 24 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 24th Sep, 2021 ) :The two candidates running neck-and-neck to replace Angela Merkel as German chancellor called for a stronger European Union on Thursday, in a final tv debate that did little to shake up a race expected to end in lengthy coalition negotiations.

With days to go before the general election on Sunday that will see Merkel step aside after 16 years in power, her conservative CDU-CSU alliance is playing catch-up with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in the polls, narrowing the gap to just two percent.

The vote is being closely watched by Western allies, wary of an uncertain outcome that could blunt the participation of Europe's biggest power on the international scene for weeks, if not months.

Foreign policy has featured little during the tight campaign, but in their final joint TV appearance, the two main contenders for Merkel's job -- Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz from the SPD and Armin Laschet from Merkel's conservative bloc each called for a strong, sovereign Europe.

"We need more Europe, we need to speak with one voice," said Laschet, who is also the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state.

"So we can act even when the US pulls back," he said, in a nod to America's chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

Scholz said the EU needed to stick together to stay relevant on the global stage, and stressed the importance of cooperation with the United States and NATO.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party's candidate for chancellor, called for a joint EU policy on China "so we're not played off against each other", advocating a combination of "dialogue" and "toughness" with Beijing.

On domestic issues, the candidates repeated their usual talking points, likely doing little to sway undecided voters and leaving media commentators exasperated.

"Desperately seeking a winner!" the top-selling Bild wrote.

- 'Climate crisis' - Latest opinion polls put Scholz's SPD in front at 25 percent, followed by the CDU-CSU at 23 percent, within the margin of error.

The Greens are in third place at around 16 percent support, giving them a realistic chance of becoming a junior coalition partner in the next government.

If the surveys prove right, Merkel's conservatives are headed for their worst score in post-war German history, potentially tarnishing Merkel's own legacy.

Their pick for chancellor, the affable but gaffe-prone Laschet, 60, saw his popularity decline after he was caught chuckling during a tribute to victims of deadly floods in July.

Often described as capable but boring, his centre-left rival Scholz came from behind to take the lead, casting himself as a safe pair of hands and the true Merkel heir.

Climate change has emerged as a top concern among the 60.4 million people eligible to vote, including about 2.8 million able to do so for the first time.

Baerbock, 40, has warned that the next government "will be the last that can still actively influence the climate crisis".

Huge crowds are set to take to the streets on Friday as part of a global climate demo, with Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg coming to march in Berlin.