Merkel and Steinmeier offer tepid TV debate ahead of poll
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Chancellor Angela Merkel and rival Frank-Walter Steinmeier engaged in a polite debate on German television on Sunday, exchanging views on minimum wages and nuclear energy, ahead of September 27 elections. Merkel leads comfortably in polls.
AFP - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rival, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, sparred Sunday on minimum wages and nuclear power in an otherwise tepid TV debate before elections in two weeks' time.
The conservative Merkel and Steinmeier, her vice-chancellor and the Social Democrats' candidate, also tried to claim credit for the recent state-brokered rescue of automaker Opel and a drop in joblessness in the last four years.
Merkel said she had presided over an economic boom until the crisis hit hard last year and that she could return the country to prosperity if she could link up with her partner of choice, the pro-business Free Democrats.
"We can continue decisively on this path but preferably with a new government," she said at their only one-on-one debate of the campaign before the September 27 election.
Steinmeier, like Merkel dressed in a black business suit, said any economic recovery must be accompanied by better salaries for German workers.
"We are faced with a downward spiral for pay," he said, calling for a national minimum wage like that introduced in other major European economies.
"Britain and France introduced them without a loss of jobs."
Merkel said she favoured only sector-wide wage agreements, saying a national minimum wage risked being a job killer.
The two candidates also stressed their differences on nuclear energy.
Merkel's Social Democratic predecessor Gerhard Schroeder agreed to mothball the country's reactors by about 2020.
The chancellor said Sunday that the nuclear power plants should stay open as a "bridge technology until renewable, affordable energy makes a transition possible".
Steinmeier called nuclear energy dangerous.
"That is the wrong way to go," he said of Merkel's plan. "We must maintain the phase-out of nuclear power."
Despite occasional jousts, the debate quickly devolved into a tame policy discussion with a polite exchange of differing views.
The chancellor and Steinmeier, who is also foreign minister, have worked together in a so-called grand coalition since 2005 and both would like to abandon the loveless marriage and link up with their partners of choice.
But Merkel's conservatives are leading in polls by a double-digit margin and look likely to manage to form a ruling coalition with the Free Democrats.
The televised debate was seen by many commentators as Steinmeier's last chance to rescue his bid to become chancellor, with 20 million viewers expected to watch.
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