While conservative challenger Angela Merkel is too busy to appear in two TV debates, media-savvy Chancellor Schröder is even eager to go for a duel with himself. The debate about the debate is heating up.
No second date for Angela and Gerhard?
Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) and Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) failed to reach an agreement Saturday on the number of televised debates that the chancellor candidates would participate in.
Broadcaster would like to see two TV debates
Citing a short campaign and a very busy schedule, CDU candidate Angela Merkel and a favorite to become Germany's next and first female chancellor has so far agreed on only one TV debate with her political rival. Schröder's camp, on the other hand, is still pushing for two.
The final decision regarding the format and number of debates will have to be made this week to give the broadcasters enough time to organize and schedule the events.
A new meeting with German public and private broadcasters will take place on Wednesday.
Schröder an experienced hand
Schröder's spokesperson, Bela Anda, said Monday it would be "strange" if Angela Merkel did not meet the expectations of the population.
"I wonder if they're trying to hide something," said Anda.
According to the government spokesperson, two TV duels have become a national and regional standard. They have been requested by both public and private broadcasters, as well as the general public.
However, television face-offs between the main chancellor candidates are relatively new in Germany as opposed to the US. Germans were treated to their first taste of the event during campaigning for the last federal elections in 2002.
This is what the debate looked like in 2002
Then, the media-savvy Schröder appeared in two such events with his opponent at the time, Edmund Stoiber of the Christian Social Union (CSU). The televised discussions saw Schröder using his slick debating skills to boost his poll ratings and stage a comeback by outshining Stoiber. 14,9 million viewers watched the first debate, and 15,2 tuned in to the second debate, including seven million viewers who had not seen the first one.
Some Merkel allies fear that Schröder could use the same
tactic to narrow the poll lead of their candidate, an unassuming former scientist who often looks awkward on television. Schröder is also said to want to introduce more bite by scrapping some of the restrictions on speaking time.
One or none
Willi Hausmann, the CDU negotiator, said that it was up to Schröder to decide whether there would be "one TV duel, or none at all."
"Two duels are not negotiable for us," he said.
Merkel's spokesperson, Eva Christiansen, stressed that the TV debate was only one in a series of campaign events.
"The duel with the chancellor is one format, but the election campaign has many other forms," she said.
Maybe she doesn't like the make-up: Angela Merkel preparing for a TV appearance
The two TV debates in 2002 lasted 60 minutes each, but the government spokesman did not rule out the possibility that Schröder would agree on one, significantly longer, discussion with Merkel.
He also said, however, that in the case no compromise was reached, Schröder would be willing to discuss his reform plans alone, without Merkel as an interlocutor.
Schröder, who appeared Sunday night as a guest at the popular political talk-show "Sabine Christiansen," promised a "well-mannered, fair and, by all means, hard though respectful interaction" with his opponent during the campaign.
"Should I make a faux pas, which I hope I not to, I won't be afraid to apologize," Schröder said.