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Business

Shadow Boxing in the Dark

German parliamentarians found out first-hand Thursday that there's nothing like an election year to infuse the national economic debate with a fresh injection of vitriol and bitterness.

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The boxing ring

It’s the economy stupid.

The catch-all phrase that entered the world courtesy of former US President Bill Clinton’s campaign manager won the yearling candidate’s first-try at the presidency in 1992.

So it’s no surprise that in a year where the German economy is breaking all the wrong records, the handlers for this year’s chancellor candidates are latching on to the same message.

Economy has squirmed its way into virtually every facet of the race between current Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the social democrats and his challenger, conservative Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber.

Thursday was no different.

A gathering of German parliamentarians for a discussion on the state of the German economy degenerated into the type of partisan bickering that has dominated the campaign up to this point.

Breaking all the wrong records

In a recent European Union economic survey, the once mighty German economy ranked near the bottom of the European Union in terms of growth and ranked dangerously high in terms of debt. Since then, Germany’s finance minister has revealed he plans cost-cutting measures and wants all of Germany’s states to enter into a national stability pact with the Berlin government.

The belt-tightening wouldn’t be in vain, Hans Eichel promised.

"We are standing in front of a new economic upswing," he said on Thursday in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament.

But his optimism is not spreading across party lines.

Opposition politicians from the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union, who are supporting Stoiber’s candidacy, and of the liberal Free Democratic Party continue to take aim at the government’s shortcomings.

The country’s unemployment levels went over 4 million in January and Germany’s growth continues to stagnate as its debt rises.

"Germany is last in almost every important economic category," said Friedrich Merz, head of the CDU’s parliamentary group.

Cat fight spreads to the parliament

The political cat fight has been going on virtually nonstop since Stoiber announced his candidacy in January. The Christian Social Union leader heads Germany’s most economically vital and powerful state. With the country in such an economic slump, Stoiber is trying to convince voters that he can transfer his Bavarian success onto a national level.

So far, this has contributed to much chest-thumping vitriol-spewing between the two camps. Actual proposals often get lost in the melee. Thursday was just another example.

In the middle of the politically independent German Economics Minister’s speech, a member of the Christian Social Union placed a red lantern on the podium.

The lantern, said Ernst Hinsken, was a lantern of mourning for the some 35,000 German firms that went bankrupt this year.

Minister Werner Müller said it was scandalous that Hinsken "wanted to make a joke" about such a negative statistic. He told the former baker to take the lantern back and "hang it in his bakery."

Opposition politicians repeatedly employed the health metaphor when talking about Germany’s economic state.

Merz called Germany "Europe’s sick patient."

The prescription, he said, was to vote Schröder’s government out of office come Sept. 22.

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