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Germany

Stoiber Launches Election Campaign

Conservative candidate for chancellorship, Bavarian State Minister Edmund Stoiber, launched his campaign for the chancellorship on Saturday. Core issue is the economy.

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Edmund Stoiber shows unity with former candidacy rival, Angela Merkel

Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber launched his campaign for the chancellorship on Saturday with a promise to overturn key parts of current government policy. Speaking after his nomination, Mr Stoiber accused Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of failing to keep his election promises to cut unemployment.

"Look in the papers. More bad news. Within the euro zone, the German economy is stuck in a siding. That is the core issue in this election campaign," Stoiber told reporters at a Christian Democrat meeting in the eastern city of Magdeburg.

Mr Stoiber was chosen by Germany's opposition conservatives as their candidate on Friday as his rival for the candidacy, CDU leader Angela Merkel, took a step aside, ending weeks of wrangling. Stoiber’s track record as premier of booming Bavaria comes as criticism grows of Schröder's failure to stop Germany sliding into recession. "We will hold Schroeder to the promises of the 1998 election. What happened to improving economic performance? What happened to real tax relief? What about encouraging young people to start up businesses?" Stoiber said.

Stoiber called for more measures to boost the poorer, eastern states, where unemployment at around18 per cent is twice as much as that in the richer west. Rich in swing voters, the region has been a key election battleground since reunification in 1990.

United support

Stoiber, who heads the CDU's sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), made an unscheduled appearance in Magdeburg on Saturday to present a public display of unity with Merkel, whose support commentators say will be vital in the campaign.

Despite his success and popularity in home state Bavaria, Stoiber is said to need Merkel's backing in order to avoid a repetition of the performance of Franz Josef Strauss, the CSU leader who lost the 1980 election when he failed to unite the conservatives.

"Stoiber knows quite well that with just the support of his faithful in the south, he doesn't stand a chance against Gerhard Schroeder,"the newspaper Bild said. "For the election battle in September, the CSU boss needs Angela Merkel's troops."

Schroeder said the conservatives had taken a decisive step to the right by choosing the Bavarian premier to face him on September 22, the date for the coming elections. "A Stoiber candidacy will polarise society," Schröder told Der Spiegel weekly. "He stands for the radicalisation of the democratic right and thereby sacrifices the centre ground."

Despite Stoiber's strong poll ratings, the Social Democrats are said to be relieved at the prospect of fighting him rather than a woman - Merkel would have been Germany's first female chancellor candidate.

Economy main issue

Economic change is expected to outweigh personal charisma in determining who will win Germany's 2002 elections, newspapers declared on Saturday after Stoiber’s announcement to face Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the coming elections.

The Berliner Zeitung said the two men were very similar to each other, both radiating an aura of success, a taste for power and a populist streak: "Schroeder will take Stoiber seriously as a challenger, precisely because he is so similar to him."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Stoiber, chosen as conservative candidate on Friday after Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel stepped aside, would not have stood had he not believed he could beat Schroeder.

A year ago, Schroeder's Social Democrats were soaring in the polls, but as the global economy has cooled, and Germany is slipping towards recession, the conservatives have caught up with the Social Democrats, the latest surveys show.

Conservatives catch up

According to the latest poll, published by the Tagesspiegel newspaper on Friday, Mr Schroeder would win 58% of the vote if the position were directly elected, against 39% for Mr Stoiber, and 32% for Ms Merkel.

But Berlin's Tagesspiegel also predicted that Stoiber would have to tone down his rhetoric if he were to win over voters in the more liberal north and pose a real threat to Schroeder. "Stoiber, who comes from the South and the right-wing, will have to move himself in the direction of the north and the centre-ground and he will embroil the chancellor in a real battle about economic and social policy," the paper wrote.

Noting that some analysts have predicted Stoiber would find it hard to win centrist voters, the left-wing Die Tageszeitung said what really mattered was economic competence. "We'll have to wait and see whether his conservative image really hurts him in the end. It seems that economic policy issues will decide the election," it wrote. "

Unemployment is predicted to hurdle the four-million mark again this winter.

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