Merkel challenger promises full employment: report

BERLIN, Aug 2, 2009 (AFP) - The beleaguered challenger to German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to eliminate unemployment by 2020 in a bid to salvage his floundering campaign, a report said Sunday.

With less than two months to go until the September 27 poll, Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the centre-left Social Democrats is to present a "Plan for Germany" Monday outlining his platform.

"We will show how Germany, with smart policies, can create a total of four million new jobs in the next decade," according to a copy of Steinmeier's manifesto obtained by newsweekly Der Spiegel.

"By 2020 we want to declare victory on unemployment."

The 67-page position paper says energy-saving and "green" industries such as electric car manufacturing could employ two million Germans and transform the country into the "Silicon Valley of ecological industrial production".

Steinmeier envisages another million new jobs in health and geriatric care as Germany's population ages, with the remaining million jobs in creative industries, services and trade.

The Federal Labour Office reported Thursday that just under 3.5 million people were out of work in Europe's top economy, a rise of 252,000 compared to the previous year amid the country's worst postwar recession.

Conservative Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg accused Steinmeier of making hollow promises.

"People are sick of being bombarded with pledges during election campaigns," Guttenberg told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"They are right to expect specific proposals. There are very few of those in the SPD plan."

A poll released Wednesday by independent institute Forsa showed Merkel's conservative Christian Union bloc with 38 percent support -- a record high for the year -- against just 23 percent for the Social Democrats (SPD).

Merkel, who has won praise from voters for her handling of the economic crisis, would like to ditch her awkward left-right "grand coalition" with the SPD and join forces with the opposition pro-business Free Democrats.

Most opinion polls currently forecast a ruling majority for such a coalition.

Source: AFP

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