On the evening of Sunday, September 3, Germany watched a televised debate between the main contenders for the post of the nation’s chancellor: the incumbent Angela Merkel, who leads the bloc of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), and Martin Schulz, a representative of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The discussion between politicians lasted 97 minutes and was broadcast by four TV channels – ARD, ZDF, RTL, and SAT1, reported DW. Let us recall that the Bundestag election is scheduled for September 24. As the Politico publication noted, “this election can reshape the structure of the EU.”
“Ms. Merkel appeared relaxed, credible, and experienced, effortlessly parrying her opponent’s attacks,” the BBC noted. At the same time, the publication said that Schulz “was always struggling to land a blow.”
According to a poll conducted by the Institute for Sociological Research Infratest dimap and commissioned by the ARD channel, Angela Merkel scored a victory in this verbal contest. A total of 55 percent of respondents favored her, while Schulz scored only 35 percent of the vote.
“The TV stations prepared their viewers for an impassioned, furious debate. But those hoping for rhetorical bloody noses were disappointed. As were the viewers hoping that Martin Schulz, who is unlikely to take Ms. Merkel’s crown, might at least taste victory on national TV,” the BBC noted.
During the debate, Merkel and Schulz discussed a number of key topics. However, it was the issue of migration policy and refugees that turned out to be the first and central one. In her speech, Merkel defended her migration policy in 2015 and noted that in the future it would be necessary to combat the root causes of migration in Africa and in Asia, DW wrote. At the same time, she said that she considered the influx of migrants not a threat, but a “serious challenge.” In turn, Schulz advocated a pan-European law on migration, whose implementation would be financed from the EU budget. According to the Infratest dimap poll, Merkel’s speech on this topic was supported by 44 percent of respondents, and Schulz’s by 39 percent.
In addition, the contenders for the chancellor’s office discussed the integration of migrants into the German labor market. For instance, Schulz said that this process would take longer than expected, and spoke in favor of the expedited deportation of criminals and refugees awaiting punishment. Meanwhile, Merkel stated the need for a law that would attract foreign specialists and allow Germany to “pick” migrants.
During the debate, the topic of the place of Islam in the country was also addressed. Merkel said that for her, Islam was part of Germany, “but one that is compatible with the constitution,” the chancellor was quoted as saying by DW. Schulz also said that Islam, like any religious community, could be integrated in Germany. Still, both Schulz and Merkel agreed that radical preachers should be banned from German mosques.
Another key topic of discussion was the relationship with Turkey. “Relations with Ankara weighed heavily on the so-called TV duel, and both candidates seemed to close the door on Turkey joining the EU,” wrote Politico. “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” Merkel said and promised to discuss this with her EU counterparts. She said that attempts by members of the Turkish government to exert pressure on the Turks in Germany and spread calls for violence and hatred in German mosques were unacceptable. “We cannot and will not tolerate this,” the chancellor said. In addition, she said she intended to increase economic pressure on Turkey because of the recent arrests of German citizens in that country. Schulz also promised to stop negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the EU, if he comes to lead the government.
The media point out that neither Schulz nor Merkel mentioned the conflict in Ukraine and relations with Russia.
The German newspaper Bild wrote that “Merkel won the TV duel,” while Spiegel online emphasized that it was Merkel’s best debate of the campaign. However, the media said it did not amount to much, because she did not win even once in the first three.
“THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS HAVE THEIR MAIN PROBLEM WITH GERHARD SCHROEDER”
The Day asked correspondent of the German publication Die Welt Gerhard GNAUCK for an assessment of the decisive debate between the main contenders for the position of chancellor of Germany:
“Firstly, it is worth noting that both parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, will remain in the same coalition until the election. So it was a debate not only of rivals, but of two parties that are still cooperating and have cooperated for several years. Because of this, the debate was not as biting as one would expect. Although on the other hand, I really liked that it was a debate on essential things, on the content of policies, and many things could be learned from it. It was described by some media as a debate ‘in good style,’ free of personal attacks, etc.
“Secondly, foreign and migration policies were discussed quite broadly. For example, there was talk of President Donald Trump. Merkel said that there were fundamental differences with Trump on some issues, but we still needed to cooperate with America. There was a lot said about Turkey, as the tensions between Turkey, the EU, and Germany in particular are growing. There were one or two phrases said about Russia, but, as far as I know, there was nothing about Poland and Ukraine. And of course, the debate addressed internal social and economic issues.”
How do you think, why was the topic of Ukraine not raised at this debate?
“As you know, at the moment the topic of Ukraine appears in the mainstream media less frequently than two or three years ago. In addition, Merkel is well aware that she is pursuing an aggressive policy against Vladimir Putin on Ukraine and other issues. But it is dangerous for her to offer it for a debate in Germany, as pro-Russian and anti-American emotions of some people are very strong and Merkel may lose sympathy in that field. So, I think it is good that this topic simply did not come up, especially since the party of Schulz, the Social Democrats, is tempted to choose the following line in this campaign: ‘Let us raise welfare payments and stop increasing defense and military spending.’ Thank God, this aspect did not appear. So, these issues were absent from this debate.”
Which contender will be the best choice for the chancellor’s office in terms of their policy towards Ukraine?
“Gerhard Schroeder is a major issue for the Social Democrats. After the election, he wants to join the board of directors of Rosneft. Surprisingly, Schroeder apparently thought he would announce it in August when everyone was on vacation and then everyone would forget about it. But it did not work out that way, and this topic is hotly discussed in German media. So, the Social Democrats have their main problem with Schroeder and his influence.
“Looking from the perspective of their policies regarding Ukraine, of course Merkel is the better choice, although it cannot be said that Schulz is some ardent supporter of Schroeder’s policies either.”