Social Democrats unveil German election plan to challenge Angela Merkel | News | DW | 01.08.2017
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Social Democrats unveil German election plan to challenge Angela Merkel

Germany's Social Democrats, who are struggling in the polls, have unveiled their campaign strategy to take on Chancellor Angela Merkel. Party leader Martin Schulz will tour the country right up until September's vote.

SPD general secretary Hubertus Heil stands in front of a map of Germany with chancellor candidate Martin Schulz' face on it. (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

SPD secretary general Hubertus Heil stands in front of a map of Germany with chancellor candidate Martin Schulz's face on it

The 24 million euro ($28 million) plan revealed by the Social Democrats (SPD) on Tuesday focuses first on the party's policies, then its candidate for chancellor. As partners in Germany's current grand coalition government, the SPD is seeking to distinguish itself from allies-turned-rivals: Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

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SPD secretary general Hubertus Heil announced a series of five posters promoting the party's core issues - family policies, free education, pensions, innovation and equal pay for men and women.

"Whoever performs at 100 percent, cannot earn 21 percent less," reads one poster, which features an image of a smiling woman in blue overalls, protective headphones and safety glasses.

Read more: Angela Merkel's challenger Martin Schulz unveils plan for 'modern Germany'

Hot-button issues such as migration, refugees and the role of the European Union were absent from the placards, but Heil told journalists in Berlin all questions about Germany's future would be discussed during the campaign. Responding to accusations the party focused too much on the feel-good factor and not enough on attacking rivals, he countered that they were tackling people's everyday problems.

"We're not going to campaign in a way that scares people or darkens the mood," Heil said.

Road to political revival?

At the campaign launch it was announced that party leader Martin Schulz would hit the road on a nationwide tour starting later this month. He plans to travel about 20,000 kilometers (12,500 miles) and visit 60 locations in an effort to win over voters who have yet to show support for the center-left party, which is polling between 14 and 18 percentage points behind the conservatives in recent surveys.

Read more: What you need to know about Germany's political parties

Martin Schulz speaks in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini)

Martin Schulz will embark on a 60-stop tour of Germany

The party may be hoping to revive the "Schulz effect," the jump in the polls recorded earlier this year when the former European Parliament president replaced Sigmar Gabriel as SPD leader and its candidate for chancellor.

"The election campaign is now really getting underway," party secretary Heil said.

"It's the sprint at the end that counts and we are well prepared for that."

In Merkel's shadow 

Historically, Merkel's CDU has made a habit of swallowing up coalition partners in subsequent elections. The free-market friendly Free Democrats (FDP), who were Merkel's junior partners in the previous government, failed to reach the 5-percent threshold to enter the Bundestag in 2013. Currently polling about 9 percent, they are again seen as the CDU's perferred coalition candidate, while a CDU-Greens coalition has also been raised as an option. The SPD is facing this challenge along with the rise in support for the nationalist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, which has siphoned voters from across the political spectrum.

Read more: How Germany's party donations influence elections

The SPD is spending more than any party other in Germany on its campaign. The CDU is spending about 20 million euros, the smaller parties a few million each.

se/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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