German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised tax cuts and a dramatic reduction in unemployment as her re-election campaign finally got into gear. Her SPD opponent Martin Schulz called the manifesto faint-hearted.
Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) offered modest tax cuts and extra money for young families in the new election manifesto it finally presented on Monday. The governing party's plan came several weeks after rival parties had sought to jolt the electorate awake with their new ideas, though opinion polls suggest Merkel will cruise into her fourth term in office in September.
Merkel presented the plan at a press conference at party headquarters in Berlin on Monday alongside Horst Seehofer, leader of her Bavarian allies the Christian Social Union (CSU), saying, "Our future program for Germany is: prosperity and security for all."
CSU General Secretary, Andreas Scheuer, posted a tweet as the event got underway: "Together for our country. Today we seal the government program of the CDU and CSU," he wrote:
Help for the affluent middle
The CDU's election plan includes:
- Lowering national unemployment to below 3 percent by 2025, which would mean nearly half the current rate of 5.5 percent, or 2.5 million people. Opposition parties have persistently argued that these figures hide the true numbers, since millions of people working so-called mini-jobs are still dependent on state benefits.
- Tax cuts which would include raising the top income tax bracket to 60,000 euros a year, rather than the current 52,000 euros. This is a considerably more modest increase than the proposal by Merkel's main rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), who would raise the top income tax bracket to 76,000 euros - and raise the top rate itself from 42 percent to 45 percent. The CDU only want to tax the "super-rich" (single people earning over 232,000 euros) the 45-percent rate.
- Phasing out the "solidarity fee" for the former East Germany beginning in 2020. This extra tax, imposed in the wake of reunification specifically to boost the economy in the "new states" in eastern Germany, has long rankled taxpayers' rights groups. Like the SPD, the CDU has now promised to phase it out - though it remains unclear exactly when it will disappear completely. On Monday, the CDU did not repeat a previous promise to phase it out by 2030.
- Increase in child allowance. Child allowance will be raised from the current level of 192 euros to 217 euros per month. On top of this, the CDU wants to raise the tax abatement for dependent children from 7,356 euros to 8,820 euros.
- Help for first-time property buyers. Families buying property for the first time are to receive an extra state benefit of 1,200 euros per year per child.
- An extra 15,000 police officers to be hired across Germany, including both state and federal police forces.
- Partial dual nationality concessions. Another issue that has dogged the conservative wing of the CDU will be resolved with a compromise: First-generation migrants and their children will be allowed to hold two passports - but following generations will have to choose a nationality.
The tax plans have been criticized by the SPD, currently the junior partner in Merkel's government coalition, whose party chairwoman Katarina Barley told the Rheinische Post newspaper, "The CDU is only following the watering can model in its family policies, which always only help the high-income earners. The gap between rich and poor will widen further and further."
Likewise, the plan to raise the children's allowance was denounced as bribery: "If the CDU had a real interest in a significant raise in a children's allowance, there would have been a chance to do it in this legislative period."
In a similar vein, the current German minister for construction, Barbara Hendricks, also of the SPD, was quick to criticize the CDU's plan to offer first-time buyers extra money, since it "would not reach those who really need help with buying an apartment."
Hendricks claims that her own plan, which she was unable to get past the CDU during her tenure, would reach poorer people and be much more effective: It would see families with one child be given 8,000 euros to buy or invest in the building of a new home. Families with two or three children would also receive an additional 6,000 euros per child.
Merkel's biggest rival, Martin Schulz of the SPD, criticized the manifesto as superficial. "This is a faint-hearted program, without ideas for the future," he said in a statement. "It's a program that is not serious, unjust, and irresponsible."
Meanwhile, the socialist Left party, the biggest opposition party in the current parliament, had even harsher words for conservative plan. "This Merkel agenda was cobbled together in the backrooms of the Adenauer house [the CDU party HQ] without any internal party debate, much less a public debate," Left party leader Katja Kipping said in a statement posted on Facebook. "This is a program of blank spaces. The CDU and CSU simply duck issues like pensions, fighting poverty, and public infrastructure."
Kipping also suggested that the CDU's promises weren't even backed by a proper finance plan: "A good economy and the phase of low interest rates won't cover all the things that are being promised," she said.
Still no migration cap
Many German commentators were keen to see whether the most obvious friction point between Merkel and her noticeably more conservative Bavarian ally, Horst Seehofer, would be mentioned in the manifesto. This was the much discussed migration cap, which Seehofer's party, the CSU, has demanded since Germany was plunged into a bureaucratic crisis after an influx of refugees in late 2015.
Merkel and Seehofer were keen to demonstrate their new unity on Monday, and had reached a sort of compromise - though one that favored Merkel. While the cap was not present in the manifesto, the chancellor promised on Monday that the CDU would pursue a law ensuring that skilled workers would be favored.
Both leaders were keen to deflect attention from their past differences: Merkel emphasized that there would be "no repeat" of the refugee crisis that had led to the strife, while Seehofer said there had not been "a breath of difference on any point" as they drew up the manifesto.
Meanwhile, the migration cap itself was included in a separate Bavarian plan drawn up by the CSU alone, and Seehofer said that, given the drop in the number of people seeking asylum in Germany, the cap would "not play a legal role this year."
The CDU is hovering at around 40 percent in some opinion polls, while its closest rivals, the SPD, is struggling at around 25 percent. A brief surge in popularity for SPD candidate Martin Schulz had the two parties neck and neck earlier in the year, but that has dissipated.