Germany's Social Democrats have officially chosen Peer Steinbrück as their candidate to run for chancellor in the 2013 election. Steinbrück's speech focused on gender equality, a minimum wage and market regulations.
The venue was decked out in red, the official color of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD). Some 600 delegates gathered there in front of a wall bearing the party logo in white letters: Together. For Germany.
The SPD congress kicked off the election year 2013 in which the party will see its candidate Peer Steinbrück challenge conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel. The congress was an effort to persuade voters that there's no question he's the man to assume leadership of the country.
In Sunday's vote, Steinbrück got more than 93 percent of the delegates' support. However, in the run-up to the event, his nomination had been marred by discussions about his perceived arrogance as well as concerns about his hefty side income from paid speaking engagements.
A tense candidate
The SPD made issues of social justice the centerpiece of the congress - issues they believe can help them defeat the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). The party charges that Merkel has neglected domestic social issues like establishing a minimum wage, lowering electricity prices and offering better child care facilities and education. Their argument is that work does not pay off for a large segment of the German population.
Peer Steinbrück once served as finance minister, so the SPD is highlighting his economic and financial expertise as a way of bolstering his party's social agenda.
But when Steinbrück took to the podium, he seemed tense and nervous. He also got irritated by several people booing as he stood before the audience, although it turned out their boos were directed against Greenpeace activists unrolling a banner behind Steinbrück picking fun at the large fees he collected for giving speeches. The environmental group's banner contained a pun that also targeted the SPD's support of coal-fired power plants and opposition to certain renewable energy plans.
The banner was quickly torn down, and Steinbrück resumed his speech, visibly growing more relaxed and passionate as his address became more personal.
No grand coalition?
The candidate's script was 34 pages long - a thorough presentation for the delegates, the party and the public.
"Something has gone off the rails," he told the conference. "Unlike some, we don't want the market to take the place of the state and just leave people alone with that situation."
That's why the SPD supports what Steinbrück called fairer salaries and a federal minimum wage, a securer pension system, better care for the elderly and more job equality for women. He added that the tax system needs to be changed to one that better reflects modern life rather than outdated family ideals, and the party wants stronger regulations on financial markets as well as more controls on tax evasion. If made chancellor, he also said he would make it a priority to steer Germany away from nuclear energy and towards renewables.
At the end of his address, Steinbrück almost seemed penitent. He acknowledged that his extra income from speeches was a difficult issue for the party. That income of more than one million euros ($1.29 million) had come up often in German headlines for weeks.
"What I want is a majority for a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Greens," Steinbrück said and added that he would not settle for a grand coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats.
The last time the SPD was at the helm of the government was as junior partner to Merkel's party, the CDU, from 2005 to 2009. It was during that period that Steinbrück served as finance minister.
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