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Politics

Steinbrück seeks shot in SPD election arm at conference

The Social Democrat candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, has sought to rally his troops at the party conference in Augsburg. His intentions are clear, but his recent performance has presented problems.

Peer Steinbrück's speech in Augsburg on Sunday lasted roughly 80 minutes but he did at least cut to the chase within eight seconds.

"I want to become chancellor of Germany," Steinbrück said at the very start of his marathon address. Much later, the former finance minister concluded: "Let the battle begin. Just 161 days left."

SPD's party conference in Augsburg

Germany will vote in a federal election on September 22. Steinbrück and his Social Democrats (SPD) are the key challengers to incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU). Recent polls conducted monthly by public broadcaster ARD pointed to a slight bump for Merkel at the opposition's expense, although it also continued to depict a political landscape in which neither of the natural left- or right-leaning coalitions enjoyed enough support to attain the required majority.

With a projected 41 percent support, however, Merkel's CDU was able to match Steinbrück's SPD (27 percent) and its favored allies the Greens (14 percent) without any outside assistance.

Steinbrück touched on many topics, most notably economic issues like the SPD's proposed 49-percent rate of income tax for those earning more than 100,000 euros ($130,800). He also spoke about the party's desire for a minimum wage, financial sector regulation and slowing the flow of wealth "from the bottom to the top," saying the SPD should return to being "the party of the little people."

"Never again can the risk-taking speculator XY from New York, London or Frankfurt be allowed to endanger the life savings of Heidi Tibulski from Bottrop," Steinbrück said, referring to a Ruhr Valley mining town in western Germany that has seen better economic days.

Some self-criticism

The former finance minister, who was in charge as part of a Grand Coalition with Merkel at the time of the so-called financial crisis that began late in 2007 and resulted in a major recession in 2008, admitted that he had "not resisted strongly enough" during times of deregulation and market excess.

"But we have at least learned our lesson," Steinbrück said, calling the SPD's present-day policies ones "that will oppose the unchained rules of play and conduct in capitalism."

At the conference in the southern city of Augsburg, Steinbrück also received verbal support from key party allies, some of whom were considered potential candidates for chancellor themselves.

"Peer, the SPD stands united behind you," party chairman Sigmar Gabriel said, while defeated 2009 chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the delegates: "We want Chancellor Steinbrück, and we are well on the way there."

Steinbrück's early election campaign could have run more smoothly. Various gaffes have grabbed the headlines, including revelations about his earnings from public speaking engagements, a professed aversion to cheap wine, talk of Angela Merkel's gender helping her in politics, and a suggestion that the chancellor's job should be rewarded with a higher salary than the current combined total of almost 300,000 euros a year.

msh/kms (AFP, dpa)

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