AACHEN, Germany — Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday made a final push to rally supporters behind her party and its lead candidate, Armin Laschet, arguing that the country’s “future” was at stake.
Hours before Germans head to the polls, Merkel was in the western German city of Aachen to address the last rally of her conservative CDU/CSU alliance. Final polls predict a very close race, with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leading on 25 percent and the CDU/CSU on 22 percent. As that gap is within the margin of error, it is still possible for both parties to come first — and even the second-placed party could name the chancellor if it manages to form a majority with coalition partners.
“In some election campaigns you get the impression that it’s perhaps about this or that topic but that in the end it perhaps doesn’t really matter who governs Germany,” Merkel said. “But I want to tell you from my experience that in the political life of a chancellor there are moments where it’s anything but irrelevant who governs, where you have to take the right decision.”
“It’s about keeping Germany stable. It’s about your future,” said the chancellor, who is not running for reelection after 16 years in office.
Although Merkel avoided directly mentioning the SPD and its lead candidate Olaf Scholz, it was clear that her warnings were about a potential shift to the left that Scholz might pursue if elected chancellor. Merkel warned a left-leaning government coalition would “strangulate” businesses with new taxes and isolate Germany on the international stage.
SPD Secretary-General Lars Klingbeil had rejected such warnings at his party’s final rally in Cologne on Friday, arguing that the CDU/CSU was “throwing with dirt” because it had no convincing election program. Although Scholz has said he would prefer to form a government coalition with the Greens and the liberal FDP, he has not ruled out building an alliance with Greens and the far left.
At the event in Aachen, Laschet, speaking after Merkel, accused the SPD of actively “preparing” to build a government coalition with the Greens and the Left party.
He also warned of taking radical steps toward an emissions-free industry. “We need to manage the whole thing in a socially acceptable way or the country collapses,” Laschet told the crowd in front of the abbey in Burtscheid, the neighborhood of Aachen where he was born 60 years ago. His words were met with broad applause and chants, but also some dissenting voices.
Laschet also stressed his European credentials, saying that the EU “was more important than ever in this unstable world” and must therefore be kept together.
This included holding out an olive branch to Poland and Hungary, which are locked in fierce rule-of-law battles with Brussels. “Yes, there is some dissent now about the rule of law. But we will not be able to hold this Europe together without Poland, without Central and Eastern Europe, without the Baltic states, without Hungary,” he said.
Addressing his party’s weak performance in the polls, some of which can be attributed to his own gaffes and mistakes during the election campaign, Laschet sought to project optimism.
He argued that when he ran in the state elections of North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017, “a lot of people voiced doubt whether it would go well because the polls were so volatile.” In the end, Laschet won and became state premier.
He said that back then, Merkel had also come to Aachen for his final election rally, adding: “I’m sure because she’s here today we will also succeed tomorrow.”
What he did not mention is that another chancellor candidate, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, also held his final rally in Aachen four years ago. The next day Schulz admitted defeat.