Germany's SPD names former finance minister as Merkel challenger

Sun Dec 9, 2012 10:26am EST
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By Erik Kirschbaum

HANOVER, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's opposition Social Democrats (SPD) formally nominated former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck on Sunday as their candidate to run for chancellor against Angela Merkel in next September's election.

Steinbrueck promised a more just society and called for a united fight against Merkel's centre-right coalition in a speech aimed at winning over the hearts of the oft-divided centre-left SPD at a special party congress.

"The financial crisis showed that things have got out of balance in Germany, in Europe and in our society," said Steinbrueck, who wants higher taxes on the wealthy and a minimum wage that Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) firmly oppose.

Political analysts say Steinbrueck faces an uphill battle to defeat the popular Merkel and win the chancellorship the SDP last held under Gerhard Schroeder from 1998 to 2005. The SPD does have a strong chance of forming part of a new "grand coalition" including the CDU, analysts say.

"Germany needs more 'We' and less 'I'," said Steinbrueck, a towering man with a booming voice who served as Merkel's finance minister from 2005 to 2009 in a former "grand coalition."

"The gap is growing between rich and poor because of a growing number of under-paying jobs and because of our poorly financed towns and cities."

His 100-minute long speech was interrupted at the start by Greenpeace hecklers who managed to outwit the SPD's careful choreography and security guards to unfurl a banner behind the podium that read: "Did you rake in enough dough?"

The 600 delegates booed before the banner was hauled off the wall. Steinbrueck, who momentarily stood in stunned silence, has come under attack for earning 1.25 million euros ($1.6 million) as an after-dinner speaker during the last three years.   Continued...

Designated top candidate of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the 2013 German general elections, Peer Steinbrueck speaks during the extraordinary party meeting of the SPD in Hanover, December 9, 2012. Steinbrueck on Sunday was elected as the SPD's top candidate for Germany's 2013 general elections. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski