Germany's SPD confirms candidate to replace Merkel as chancellor

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), in government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), overwhelmingly voted for Finance Minister Olaf Scholz to be their chancellor candidate in September’s national election.

The former Hamburg mayor was approved by 96.2 per cent of nearly 600 SPD party delegates taking part in an online conference in Berlin on Sunday.

Scholz entered the parliamentary election campaign with a promise to socially transform the economy and bring environmental progress, setting the goal of climate neutrality by 2045 at the latest.

Scholz’s party has lost ground to Germany’s Greens, which have emerged in polls as the biggest rival to Merkel’s CDU, long the country’s biggest party.

While touting environmental ambitions, Scholz also tried to set himself apart from the Green party’s recently confirmed chancellor candidate, Annalena Baerbock, by pointing to his time in government, as she has been criticized for lacking experience.

“I can contribute my experience, my strength and my ideas,” Scholz said, listing his time as mayor, minister and vice chancellor in the current coalition government.

Scholz also announced several concrete election promises, notably a high level of public investment to strengthen the health system, schools and public transport. “I want to improve the very fundamentals of everyday life,” Scholz said.

The SPD also wants to introduce better labour conditions, including a minimum wage of 12 euros (14.60 dollars) and better wages for care workers.

Lars Klingbeil, secretary-general of the SPD, meanwhile described Merkel’s conservatives as beset by brutal power struggles and a new scandal every week, and criticized their choice for chancellor, Armin Laschet, as cowardly and already defeated.

“It is empty in terms of content, and it is good for Germany if these conservatives no longer bear responsibility,” Klingbeil said.

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Scholz stands for four core goals, Klingbeil said: A climate-neutral country by 2045 at the very latest, the most modern transport system in Europe, digital sovereignty and a strong health-care system.

“Today is Day One of our catch-up for the federal elections,” added Klingbeil with an eye on poor polling numbers.

Sunday’s edition of the mass-circulation Bild newspaper reported that the SPD, at 16 per cent, was several percentage points behind the conservative bloc made up of Merkel’s CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, on 23 per cent, with the Greens out in front on 26 per cent.

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