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Germany

Election Pep Talk for the Social Democrats

With less than four months before the German national election, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has rallied his Social Democrats and persuaded them they can stay in power even though they’re currently lagging in the polls.

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German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder gives a "thumbs-up" to the Social Democrats

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told his Social Democrats (SPD) on Sunday that they had every chance of winning September’s election, despite their momentary drop in the nation’s opinion polls. The SPD should be proud of what it’s achieved so far, said the Chancellor and party chairman in front of a crowd of more than 500 party delegates.

"Some want to write us off or talk us down... but they have celebrated too early. What is important is not who leaves the gate first, but who crosses the finish line first," Schröder told his center-left party during an hour-long motivational speech designed to rally the troops prior to the final election count-down. "We want to win and we will win," Schröder announced to the cheering crowd.

Lagging at the polls

The SPD pre-election pep talk comes just as the most recent voter survey shows Chancellor Schröder falling well behind the conservative opposition candidate Edmund Stoiber. On Friday, the Emnid polling institute announced the SPD had 33 percent voter approval while the conservative coalition of Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) garnered a steady 39 percent. The SPD voter approval rating has been consistently lower than the CDU/CSU since January, despite all attempts to freshen up the party’s image and appeal to the people.

The SPD-led government simply has a negative streak attached to its name. It has been hit by sluggish economic growth, rising unemployment rates, a resounding loss in the regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt, and a corruption scandal in local party branches.

Although voters say they still favor the personable Schröder over his somewhat more stilted opponent Stoiber, many view the SPD as a party of stagnation, unable to push through necessary reforms. These alienated voters point to Germany’s high unemployment rate and the struggling economy as signs that the SPD has not done enough to improve the current condition of millions of Germans.

Election-time promises

Denouncing his party’s critics, Schröder opened the official election campaign with remarks highlighting the SPD’s record on family support, education reform, reducing the national debt, and improving Germany’s international market competition. The chancellor pointed out that under the SPD-led coalition the German government has managed to balance free-market economics with a solid social welfare network. The SPD-led government has thereby proven that an administration can combine the parameters for economic success with social security, Schröder told the party delegates

Under the slogan "Innovation and Cohesion", the chancellor described the SPD as the party that is "willing and able to reform [government] without neglecting anyone." Modernity and justice belong together, he said. And whoever believes that in this age the "social welfare state can be trampled upon, is not democratic, but rather out-dated."

Schröder admitted that unemployment, hovering at around four million, had not fallen by as much as he had planned when he took office four years ago. But, he noted that April’s jobless figures were half a million below those in 1998. Improving the job market will be one of Schröder’s main goals if he gets re-elected in the fall.

Although Schröder has faced some calls from within the party to amend his election campaign platform to win back alienated voters on the left, he did not announce any major policy shifts from the existing manifesto, nor did any party members challenge his campaign platform. It was endorsed by 520 party delegates on Sunday. Only two were against it and four abstained from voting.

In concluding his speech, Schröder said the upcoming election "is about a choice between the future or the past, between progress or regression, between vision of a socially responsible and modern Germany or the resurgence of the inappropriate old recipes of yesterday."

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