No protective clothing needed as Merkel reaps rewards of Euro triumph

Tony Paterson joins the German Chancellor on the campaign trail

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The Independent Online

The crowd of locals and holiday makers in the east German lakeside town of Waren burst into applause as the woman introduced as the “most successful woman politician in Europe” walked onto the stage today.

But as she began the third rally on her 60-stop campaign tour to win a third term in Germany’s September general election, conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel wasn’t that keen on mentioning Europe at all.

She referred to the Euro crisis only with throwaway lines such as: “We need a strong Europe.” In the direction of countries like Greece and Spain she added: “Every country needs to do its homework.”

Her comments were greeted with clapping. It seemed just as important at Angela Merkel’s east German rally that she inform the crowd that she likes going swimming, used to drive a paddle boat and that as a youngster growing up in the region, was once employed to dig ditches.

The election, she told the crowd, is all about: “Deciding how things should continue for you personally in your life.” She pointed out that her government had cut unemployment from five to three million and insisted that under her tenure, Germany was doing quite well. Supporters walked about in black T –shirts bearing the slogan “Keep cool and vote for the Chancellor.” Bernd Stillmann, a 45-year-old teacher from Hamburg was on holiday. He told The Independent: “Merkel doesn’t have to dwell too much on Europe because she has fixed its problems. I admire her for that,” he added.

Many of Germany’s 80 million-plus inhabitants agree. With little more than a month to go before general election on 22 September, opinion polls suggest that Ms Merkel’s campaign tactic of virtually ignoring Europe’s problems is likely to be a winner. Her stance was even boosted this week with figures which suggested that with a 0.7 per cent growth rate in the second quarter, Germany had succeeded in leading Europe out of recession.

A survey conducted by the respected Forsa institute earlier this week suggested that her ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats was on course to capture 40 per cent of the vote.

By contrast the opposition Social Democrats and environmentalist Greens, who are fighting to oust the Chancellor with a so-called Red-Green coalition, are expected to poll a combined 36 per cent.

Yet her decision to portray Europe as a problem which she has successfully resolved has prompted a series of scathing attacks from prominent German critics who argue that Ms Merkel is disingenuous of not downright dishonest. The philosopher, Peter Sloterdijk has accused her of creating a “lethargocracy” in Germany by ducking the European issue and avoiding controversy at almost all costs.

Germany’s federal bank, the Bundesbank, painted a different picture earlier this week. It argued that far from being secure, German voters would, by early 2014, be saddled with a new Greek bailout problem.

The bank said it had “ grave doubts” about Athens’ ability to implement its current reform programme, the conditions of which were decided largely by Germany.

In an essay published this week entitled “Germany dozes on a Volcano”, the leading German social commentator Jürgen Habermas was scathing about Ms Merkel and accused her of inflicting “horrendous” unemployment on southern Europe with an austerity programme designed to please a domestic audience.

“We know Angela Merkel’s response: soporific bumbling. Her public persona seems to lack any normative core,” he wrote. “Since the Greek crisis erupted in may 2010, she has subordinated each of her considered steps to the opportunism of staying in power,” he concluded.