German opposition leader buoyed by poll ahead of UK visit

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The Independent Online

Edmund Stoiber, the right-wing Bavarian Prime Minister challenging Gerhard Schröder for the German chancellorship, visits Britain today with opinion polls forecasting a landslide for his opposition conservatives in the general election.

A poll in Germany's Stern magazine yesterday put Mr Stoiber's Christian Democrats 9 points ahead of Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats, and predicted that the conservatives would walk the election on 22 September.

The poll also found that only 24 per cent of the electorate believed Mr Shröder's government was capable of turning around the sluggish economy and helping the 4 million unemployed. Forty-two per cent of those polled thought Mr Stoiber could succeed.

During his one-day visit, the Bavarian leader will spend an hour and a half with Tony Blair and meet Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor.

Despite his popularity, Mr Stoiber faces potentially damaging party slush-fund allegations and scepticism about his pledges to reform the economy by cutting state spending and income tax to below the 40 per cent mark.

Yesterday, Mr Stoiber was ordered to appear before a parliamentary committee investigating the conservative party donations scandal sparked by the former chancellor Helmut Kohl more than two years ago.

Karlheinz Schreiber, a former weapons dealer with close links to the Kohl government, has alleged that in the 1980s he and other industrialists donated about £1.6m resulting from arms sales, to a secret bank account of Mr Stoiber's Bavarian Christian Social Union. Mr Stoiber's party has dismissed the claims as slanderous.