Merkel Challenger Attacks Her Austerity Policy

SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück outlined his foreign policy priorities on Tuesday.
DPA

SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück outlined his foreign policy priorities on Tuesday.

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More money for Europe. That was the central message delivered by Peer Steinbrück, the center-left challenger to Angela Merkel in fall elections, in a major foreign policy speech he delivered on Tuesday afternoon in Berlin. As the chancellor herself was wading through Bavarian floodwaters, Steinbrück was blasting her for continuing to impose strict austerity measures on the rest of the Continent.

"Do you have any idea what would happen if Germany had to save 5 percent (of its gross national product) each year?" he asked in his speech, delivered to students at the Free University in Berlin. "You wouldn't be here. You'd be out on the streets."

Instead, he said, a "kind of Marshall Plan" for Europe should be launched in an effort to reverse catastrophically high youth unemployment in the euro zone and to revive Southern European economies that remain stuck in recession. He also said that Berlin needed to re-examine its role in the euro crisis and said that "Germany has to be a society of good neighbors." He also said that "Germany should not lay claim to leadership in Europe."

For those who have been following Steinbrück's rather tepid campaign thus far, the speech fell far short of being the kind of foreign policy tour de force that had been promised. In his months on the stump, Steinbrück has repeatedly criticized Merkel's euro crisis strategy and he repeated many of his favorite lines on Tuesday. "The content and style of crisis management of this government and Ms. Merkel has spread doubt in Europe about whether it can count on German solidarity," Steinbrück said, for example, adding that austerity had pushed some economies into a "death spiral."

Drone Attacks 'Illegal'

The vehemence of the criticism will no doubt leave some listeners shaking their heads. Steinbrück's SPD, after all, has consistently voted with Merkel's parliamentary majority on bailout packages for ailing Southern European euro-zone member states, packages that have included demands for deep spending cuts. Recently, though, Steinbrück and the SPD have sought to follow French President François Hollande further to the left. He said on Tuesday that his "Marshall Plan" could be funded using revenues from a new financial transaction tax.

Steinbrück's task of separating himself from Merkel has been made more difficult lately as the chancellor herself has moved to the center. But Steinbrück did pick away at Merkel's foreign policy Achilles heel. For one, he criticized Merkel for allowing Germany's allies to go it alone in the offensive against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. For another, he said that he would radically curtail German arms exports to countries such as Saudi Arabia, shipments for which Germany has been criticized in the past.

Steinbrück also said he was against weapons deliveries to Syrian rebels due in part to the danger such shipments could ultimately pose to Israel. And he added that drone attacks such as those practiced by the US were "contrary to international law" and that Germany had no need for drones.

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