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Merkel takes campaign to Frankfurt Motor Show

Source: Reuters - Fri 18th Sep 2009

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took her re-election campaign to the Frankfurt Motor Show on Thursday, promising her country's powerful car industry more state backing for technologies with a bright future.

Merkel said she wants the state to play a more pro-active role in helping the domestic car industry emerge on a stronger footing from the recession that hit it so hard.

"It might seem like quasi-protectionism" Merkel said at the opening of one the world's largest car shows. "But I think we'd be well-advised to see how Germany can pool its potential as a 21st century car nation as best as possible.

"After the election, we should all sit down together and see how the government can help advance what's in our national interest" said Merkel, pointing to the rapid developments with battery technology, solar-powered cars and low-emission engines.

"That's my offer to you" she added.

Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) hold a 9-13 point lead over the rival SPD and their chancellor candidate, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

But the conservatives need a strong showing from the Free Democrats (FDP) to seal the centre-right alliance they want and break the shackles of the grand coalition with Steinmeier's SPD that they were forced into after the 2005 election.

One new opinion poll published on Thursday suggested her preferred alliance could fall just short of a majority when Germans vote on September 27 but another poll released late on Thursday evening indicated it still has a narrow lead. 

A survey by the Emnid institute put her conservatives on an unchanged 35 percent and the FDP at 13 percent for a combined 48 percent - the same as three leftist parties led by the SPD, which gained a point in the week to 25 percent.

The second survey by Infratest dimap for ARD TV showed the centre-right alliance with a 49-47 percent lead. Even though the SPD rose 3 points to 26 percent, the Greens were down 2 to 10. The conservatives were steady at 35 and the FDP unchanged at 14.

A centre-right government would cut taxes and reverse a planned phase-out of nuclear power in Germany. The most likely alternative, another grand coalition, would be less stable and could struggle to forge compromises on new policy initiatives.


Thursday's poll deadlock underscored how close the race is.

The centre-right squandered comfortable leads in both the 2002 and 2005 elections and some in Merkel's conservative party fear another late meltdown, especially after the chancellor's uneven performance in a TV debate against Steinmeier on Sunday.

Reflecting those concerns, CDU campaign manager Ronald Pofalla announced on Thursday that the party planned to shift to a more aggressive approach that would clearly highlight the differences with the SPD.

Steinmeier hopes to unseat Merkel with a three-way coalition including the Greens and the FDP, even though the FDP has spurned his offer. His primary goal is to prevent a centre-right coalition and ensure the SPD is not pushed into the opposition for the first time in over a decade.

"I'm campaigning hard so that the SPD will not end up in the opposition" Steinmeier said in interview on Thursday with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, adding he believed the FDP would change its tune if the centre-right falls short again. 

"I want to be chancellor and we're feeling a tailwind since the TV debate" added Steinmeier, who could lose the election but still end up as chancellor if he is able to forge a three-way coalition.

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