The German conservative opposition of Angela Merkel and her favored coalition partners presented a united front on Thursday in a bid to persuade voters they could rule Germany alone.
The big three
Merkel said that only a combination of the Christian Union and the Free Democrats (FDP) could drag the country out of its economic standstill and dismissed Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats as "belonging to the past."
With polls showing the Christian Union is heading for a clear victory over the Social Democrats on September 18, the burning question now is whether it will gain enough votes along with the Free Democrats to secure a majority in the Bundestag lower house of parliament.
The alternative is a so-called grand coalition including the Social Democrats, which none of the parties says it wants.
After a meeting with the Free Democrats' leader Guido Westerwelle, Merkel told a press conference that the parties had put their names to a shared manifesto which puts job creation and promoting families at the centre of their strategy.
Angela Merkel and Edmund Stoiber at a CDU party convention in Dortmund on August 28.
"With the Union and the FDP together, Germany will have a different style than under Red-Green," she said, using the nickname for the current coalition of Social Democrats and Greens.
Seven years of rule by Schröder's coalition have been "disastrous", and a speech by Schröder at a congress of the Social Democrats on Wednesday produced "no new proposals" for getting the country's 4.7 million unemployed back to work, she said.
"That was the past; we stand for the future," Merkel said, promising that coalition negotiations after the election would be wrapped up quickly.
Free-Market liberals firmly on board
Standing alongside Merkel, Westerwelle agreed that his party was in broad agreement with the Christian Union.
"We want to rule together because this country needs a new start," he said.
Edmund Stoiber, leader of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said a coalition with the Free Democrats was "the only political alternative."
People should know what they are voting for, Stoiber said -- a cross on the ballot paper for the Social Democrats could produce a ragtag coalition including the Greens and the former communists, although this constellation has been repeatedly ruled out by the current governing parties.
Coalitions of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats have led Germany for the majority of the post-World War II period "and we have led well because we have experience of leading", said Stoiber, who was beaten by Schröder in the race to be chancellor in 2002.
Gaining a majority is not a foregone conclusion, as an opinion poll carried out by the Infratest institute and released on Thursday showed the Christian Union scoring between 42 and 43 percent and the Free Democrats on six to seven percent.