The German election campaign has now entered its final week with voters due to head to the polls on Sunday, September 26. The latest polls shows the Social Democrats (SPD) soaring ahead of the current Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) coalition, currently lead by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Many Germans have already voted via postal ballot which means trends indicating the SPD lead are unlikely to change significantly.
The final debate on Sunday saw the Union’s candidate Armin Laschet face off against frontrunner Olaf Scholz and Greens leader Annalena Baerbock.
The Social Democrats’ candidate (SPD) Olaf Scholz went into the debate ahead in the polls – with many viewers also having seen him as the victor of the last two debates.
But his rival Christian Democratic Union (CDU) candidate and natural successor to Angela Merkel, Armin Laschet, has attempted to weaken Mr Scholz’s support.
The conservative CDU/Christian Social Union (CSU) have helped prop up the Government for the past 16 years, but now if the polls are correct, as Ms Merkel exits the halls of power – the centre-left could take up her post.
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The SPD and Greens presented a united front in the third and final TV debate which saw a snap poll crown Mr Scholz as the clear winner.
Ms Baerbock publicly abandoned the CDU/CSU as a coalition partner saying: “It’s time for the Union to go into opposition.”
However, Mr Laschet remains close behind the SPD candidate according to the Forsa poll – with 27 percent supporting the CDU/CSU candidate.
The Social Democrat was 15 percentage points ahead of Mr Laschet with 42 percent of the vote, while the Greens candidate Annalena Baerbock won 25 percent of the vote.
These results were broadly in line with the latest opinion poll published in the country by INSA which saw the SPD win 26 percent, compared to 21 for the CDU/CSY and 15 percent for the Greens.
The three candidates also clashed over tax relief measures for low earners.
Mr Scholz promised to offer tax relief to those earning £29,921 (€35,000) or less a year.
The Greens plan to raise taxes on high earners and she said the difference between her party and her two competitors is that she understands how to fund important initiatives.
Mr Laschet argued her plan would fail and would not provide the money it promises to – to which Ms Baerbock accused the CDU of failing low-income families and not helping to pull children out of poverty.
On this topic, Mr Scholz indicated he could be willing to partner up with the Greens saying they see eye to eye on tax issues.
Climate change was another key issue in Sunday’s debate – particularly in the wake of Mr Laschet’s drop in support after laughing during a visit to a flood-stricken town earlier this year.
Suggesting her party was the only one prepared to take on the climate crisis, the Greens candidate said: “The next Government needs to be a climate Government, and that requires very concrete measures.”
Mr Scholz presented himself and his party as willing to engage in the challenge of making the German industrial economy climate neutral by 2045.
He said the country is facing “the biggest modernisation that Germany has ever undertaken.”
Mr Laschet claimed the CDU was among the first to address climate change under the Government of Helmut Kohl.
He blamed the Greens for fighting for nuclear power before coal power – instead pushing hydrogen as a clean fuel solution for Germany’s energy needs.
Coronavirus and the nation’s vaccination efforts was another key topic on Sunday.
Mr Laschet said he wants to keep schools open and rely less on home learning as the policy has “aggravated social inequalities”.
When asked if vaccination should be mandatory, the CDU candidate said: “We must now promote vaccination across party lines … many want to get vaccinated if you reach them.”
Ms Baerbock said full vaccine requirement is not possible in Germany, but it should be a priority to keep schools and daycare centres open, enabling adults to “do more” to ensure children are not put at risk.
The final question put to candidates concerned preferred coalition Governments.
Ms Baerbock said the Greens would speak with all “democratic” parties about potential options but she reiterated she thought it “best for the CDU to go into opposition”.
The CDU leader said he would exclude a coalition with extreme parties including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) or Die Linke (the Left) – instead, he tried to pin down Mr Scholz and Baerbock about whether they would team up with the Left.
Mr Scholx said: “Many citizens can imagine me becoming the next chancellor.”
He added: “I don’t want to make a secret of the fact that I would prefer to form a government with the Greens.”