Chancellor candidate Angela Merkel appeared on Germany's top talk show Sunday trying to polish her image. She also defended the man slated to be her finance minister and his ambitious tax reform plans.
Angela Merkel, out to spiff up her image
Smiling a lot more and sitting comfortably in the single seat across from host Sabine Christiansen, Christian Democratic candidate Angela Merkel put on the charm.
It was the same seat in which Chancellor Gerhard Schröder put his talents as an accomplished campaigner on full display two weeks earlier, warmly joking with Christiansen and the audience while still appearing statesmanlike. On Sunday night, Merkel, who is four points behind Schröder in popularity polls, was in the hot seat.
Luckily for the former East German physicist, Germans are voting for parties, not personalities, in the planned Sept. 18 elections. And it's on the strength of their party platform, and the widespread disappointment in Schröder's economic reforms, that the Christian Democratic Union has built a comfortable lead over the chancellor's Social Democratic Party (SPD).
Angela Merkel, here with the show's host, Sabine Christiansen
Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has promised to bring down unemployment by making Germany an attractive place for investors. A key challenge, bringing down the deficit by cutting Germany's debt, will be the job of Paul Kirchhof, a former constitutional court judge whose ideas have reaped a lot of criticism from party members. On Sunday, Merkel went out of her way to stand behind the man she'll like appoint finance minister in the event of her victory.
Kirchhof a "visionary"
Kirchhof's plans are "visionary," Merkel told Christiansen. She said she saw no major problem with his call for a 25 percent tax rate, which clashes with the CDU platform, saying that Kirchhof's job will be to "push us and spur us on."
The CDU plans a tax reform concept that sets rates between 12 and 39 percent. That is "a very significant step towards his vision," she added.
Even as most of his party critics returned to toeing the line over the weekend, members of the free-market liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) took further jabs at Kirchhof. Dirk Niebel, general secretary of the CDU's likely coalition partners, said his idea was not financially viable at the moment, as a lower rate would cut the government's tax income.
Unjust and brutal
Critics from the SPD went even further. Wolfgang Thierse, the president of Germany's Bundestag, called Kirchhof's plans "seductively simple, brutally unjust and not financially feasible."
Kirchhof himself stuck to his guns. In an interview with newsmagazine Der Spiegel he said he planned to eliminate all 418 tax loopholes in an effort to simplify and improve the tax system.
"If you let one or the other loophole stay, people will ask, 'Why this one and not the others?'" he said.
Kirchhof said last week he wanted a tax system that would allow people to do their taxes in ten minutes. In the long-term he's advocating for a system that taxes both people and companies the same regardless of how they make their money.