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Angela Merkel took a rare foray into partisan campaigning in parliament in a session just weeks ahead of national election. The chancellor not only lauded her own government's record but also took aim at the poll leader.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered perhaps her last address as chancellor to the Bundestag on Tuesday, pitching for her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, as standing for "stability, reliability, moderation and centrality."
The extended session on Tuesday comes as the Bundestag Parliament prepares to shut down for the decisive weeks of the German election campaign, with candidates to replace Merkel from every major party also having a chance on the microphone.
In a jab at the SPD candidate, Olaf Scholz, Merkel referred to Scholz's comments on coronavirus vaccinations last week, when he had said that the roughly 50 million fully vaccinated Germany had effectively served as "guinea pigs" for those who were skeptical, and had demonstrated it was safe.
"If we want to convince people [to get a vaccine] it must be with arguments and not images of guinea pigs," Merkel said, albeit without mentioning Scholz by name.
Scholz responded that his comments in a live radio interview were an attempt to use humor to raise awareness over vaccines, arguing that his political opponents were overreacting.
"If some people don't want to laugh and instead get riled up about it, perhaps that has something to do with them having very little to laugh about when looking at their poll numbers," he countered.
Scholz had already come under fire over the issue on Saturday from Laschet and Health Minister Jens Spahn, also of the CDU.
Merkel also used her final address to point at the CDU's past achievements on building green energy and digital infrastructure, fighting right-wing extremism, pushing climate-friendly environmental policy and fostering economic equality.
The chancellor said the 2021 election was "decisive" for Germany as it faces a world of "turmoil and upheaval," with challenges ranging from terrorism, the rise of China, digitalization and climate change.
"We are dealing with dramatic problems," Merkel said.
The SPD candidate, who is also the current finance minister in the coalition government, addressed the Bundestag chamber and spoke about a range of issues, with a particular focus on economic policies.
Scholz added that the fate of Germany's future was now "in the hands of its citizens."
"They will decide on September 26 how we move forward in this country [...] The citizens have their say now."
At one point, Beatrix von Storch, the deputy leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), sought permission to intervene during Scholz's speech. The SPD politician refused to permit von Storch's interjection, saying instead: "There are interventions which bring debate in this chamber forwards, and others where one can say with certainty in advance that they will not."
Merkel had similarly used her speaking time to berate AfD members for heckling during her address.
Greens' candidate Annalena Baerbock demanded more action on climate change in Germany and bemoaned the CDU for lagging progress on enacting climate-friendly policy.
"We need, finally, climate policies that focus on prevention and protection," Baerbock said, accusing the governing coalition of leading Germany into a "dead end" on climate change.
"You can't say to scared children, worried about climate change, 'Yes, but understand that our fear of a tax on fuel is far greater.'"
Baerbock said the 2021 election would decide how Germany will respond to the climate crisis moving forward.
CDU candidate Laschet praised Chancellor Merkel's stewardship of Germany, saying the country had "16 good years" under the CDU.
"She has led this country well through many crises," he said, adding that "fear mongering" in the Bundestag during that time has had "little to do" with what the CDU has achieved.
On the future of a CDU-led governing coalition in Germany, Laschet said it was important to note that the "world has changed" over the past 16 years, and no one seriously thinks you can govern in 2021 as you would have in 2005.
After Laschet took the lectern, the Greens' Baerbock challenged him in the middle of his address, pressing the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia if he would move forward on Germany's coal exit as chancellor.
Laschet responded by claiming "in almost 20 years, we hear nothing from the Greens on coal, almost all complaints were about nuclear power. That's the wrong way around, the reverse would have made more sense."
Christian Lindner from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) started off his address poking fun at Scholz's demeanor as "sensing victory." However, he pointed out that the election isn't about winning at polls but winning votes.
Lindner also turned his criticism to the CDU, saying that a continuation of the current governing coalition would be "huge risk" for Germany. "The way it is, must not remain," he said.
Lindner has been chiding the CDU and SPD alike, playing hard to get in an election where his party could emerge as the coalition kingmaker for either side.
Lindner warned about a situation where a party could "win an election, and nevertheless be unable to form a coalition," citing the example of the CDU's Helmut Kohl in 1976.
Directly after Merkel finished, Alice Weidel, leader of the far-right AfD, called the chancellor's address a "big show."
Weidel claimed Germany had "fallen quickly" under the CDU's watch, citing "mountains" of government debt, burdens on ordinary working people and an out-of-control immigration policy.
The far-right leader said Germany's immigration policy in 2015 and 2016 would go down as "the greatest failure" of Merkel's time in office. She said it had created an "uncertain and divided" country.
Weidel also claimed the CDU government was "lining the pockets" of renewable energy interests, calling Germany the "only hippie country" in the world pursuing a reduced carbon footprint at any cost.
Correction, September 7, 2021: A previous version of this article described the SPD as center-right, instead of center-left. This has now been corrected. We apologize for the error.