Germany's conservatives aim to cut taxes, reform financial markets and improve childcare in a bid to secure a second term at the head of a new-look governing coalition.
Merkel's conservatives are leading in the polls
Germany's largest party, the Christian Democratic Union, together with their Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) allies, is looking to extend its mandate, though preferably not as part of the uneasy grand coalition it's formed with the rival SPD since 2005.
As its name suggests, the CDU is Christian-based but aims to appeal to broad cross-section of society. Anyone may join the party, which has pursued a neo-liberal since Helmut Kohl's time as Germany's chancellor from 1982 to 1998.
The party's 2009 election slogan, "We have the strength," is an attempt to position Chancellor Angela Merkel as the only politician able to drag Germany out of the economic crisis.
"We have the power to make Germany stronger than it was before the crisis," Merkel said when presenting her election program to the public in June.
Germany's conservatives want to cut taxes to overcome economic crisis
Germany's two conservative parties strongly reject tax increases to finance current measures to stabilize financial markets and stimulate economic growth.
Instead they aim to boost domestic consumption with a two-step cut in the lowest income tax bracket, from 14 to 12 percent. They also want to raise the threshold above which income is taxed at the highest rate of 42 percent to 60,000 euros ($83,600) from 52,552 euros.
The CDU/CSU call for reforms to limit the impact of "cold progression" - the process by which taxpayers are shifted into higher tax brackets thus reducing their real income after a pay raise.
The conservatives also say they will examine corporate taxes to ensure they do not over-burden firms.
However, the envisaged tax measures are dependent on the next government's financial room to maneuver.
In labor market policy, the two conservative parties are strictly against the introduction of a nationwide minimum wage, arguing that wage policy must remain an issue of collective bargaining between labor and business.
Reforming international financial markets
Merkel's conservatives blame lax oversight on the part of banks and international financial markets for the current financial crisis.
They say the European Union's Stability and Growth Pact, which underpins the euro, must be strengthened, and they reject attempts to exert political influence over the European Central Bank.
They also press for stronger supervision of the banking sector, including an international code of conduct for hedge funds and ratings agencies.
Social and education policies move center stage
A strong emphasis on education and social policy marks a change from the conservative's 2005 election program. At the time, the Social Democrats won many votes by accusing Merkel of being unsympathetic towards those in need in Germany.
The CDU/CSU want to increase government subsidies for families with children. Parents who take time off from work to care for newborn babies should also be allowed to work part-time and receive state aid for up to 28 months.
CDU Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen is the figurehead of the party's new social policy
They plan to match nationwide demand for childcare spots by 2013, giving all parents guaranteed childcare for kids over one year of age. In the long term, childcare facilities should be free for all, the program says.
Merkel's conservatives also want to introduce obligatory language tests from the age of four to identify and help children with deficits. By 2012, all children, including those from immigrant families, should be able to speak German sufficiently before entering school.
Multilateral foreign policy
Chancellor Merkel is eager to strengthen the transatlantic partnership with Washington to forge agreement on crucial policy issues such as climate change and international security.
Merkel seeks close cooperation with the US
Good ties with Russia, the bloc says, are in Germany's interest, although the depth of ties should depend on Moscow's willingness to meet international obligations.
The CDU/CSU want to limit the risk of instability in Afghanistan spilling into Europe and believe greater emphasis must be placed on civilian reconstruction rather than military success.
Nuclear energy crucial to curb climate change
Although the conservatives say they don't want to build new nuclear plants, they argue this form of energy is a crucial part of a proper energy mix.
They want to undo Germany's 2002 Nuclear Phase-out Accord by extending the life spans of some existing plants beyond the phase-out deadline of 2020.
Merkel's conservatives are planning to cut Germany's carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent over the next 11 years and to increase the amount of electricity generated in Germany from renewable energy sources to 30 percent.
They say a post-Kyoto agreement must agree binding climate goals with the United States and take developing countries on board.
Editor: Deanne Corbett