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SPD seeks to raise social justice profile

Germany's Social Democratic Party has outlined an agenda geared towards social justice at a party conference in Berlin. The party is hoping to improve its poor standing in the polls in the leadup to elections in 2017.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel announced on Sunday that he wanted his party to win back the trust of the German public and better cater to families, single parents and pensioners.

"Solidarity is our response to the challenges and problems that everyone faces," he said.

At the conference in Berlin, attended by around 200 SPD officials, Gabriel said the party needed to strive to further differentiate itself from coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"Left doesn't mean to give up on the center, left means to conquer the middle," Gabriel said. "The center is also the place between bottom and top."

Education, housing, taxes

At the conference, the SPD functionaries finalized a motion that proposes investing billions in roads, security, education and affordable housing. Gabriel stressed that the party's focus was to ease the burden on those with small and medium incomes, and to make the taxation system fairer.

"Increasing taxes isn't going to bring about more justice," Gabriel told journalists. "We want to ensure that people who have built prosperity can have more of it."

In the area of education policy, Gabriel made the case for abolishing the current ban on cooperation between federal and state governments, and said a massive injection of funds into kindergartens and primary schools was needed.

The SPD has also proposed the creation of 12,000 additional police force jobs at federal and state levels by 2019, as well as the expansion of surveillance at known crime spots. Gabriel said public safety was a "deeply democratic issue because only rich people can afford a weak state."

Chancellor candidate?

The SPD has been performing poorly in the polls for months, with support currently hovering at around 21 percent. Gabriel, who is Vice Chancellor and also economy minister, was re-elected to lead his party in December with a historically low 74 percent. It's not yet clear who will run as the SPD candidate for chancellor in the 2017 federal elections.

"No one is ducking out," Labor Minister Andrea Nahles (SPD) told the "Ruhr Nachrichten" newspaper on Sunday. "I'm sure that when the time comes, the SPD will swiftly agree on a candidate for chancellor."

"Of course Sigmar Gabriel has the final say, and for that reason I'm neither in the game, nor have I anything new to report."

nm/bw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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