Merkel Reproached on Diesel as Election Rival Presses His Attack

Portraying German Chancellor Angela Merkel as slow to tackle the country’s diesel-car crisis, soft on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and out of touch with voters, her main election opponent stepped up his attacks on her record.

Merkel, whose Christian Democratic-led bloc leads the SPD by as many as 17 percentage points in national polls, has bene dealt severe criticism yet with four weeks left in the German campaign, Social Democratic Party challenger Martin Schulz leveled his broadest criticism at her. A foretaste of next Sunday’s only TV debate between the two candidates was offered by the skirmish in separate television interviews.

Talks hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron on topics including migration will see Merkel, for her part, traveling to Paris on Monday to attend that talks. And as she seeks a fourth term on Sept. 24 after 12 years in office, it’s a chance for the chancellor to play up her role as Europe’s longest-serving leader.

“More and more people are noticing how removed Mrs. Merkel has become,” Schulz, 61, told broadcaster ARD in an interview on Sunday, saying he wants to spare Germany “years of stagnation and political agony.” Merkel, asked about the comments on ZDF television, retorted that “I still have the strength and the curiosity” to lead the country.

Homing in on her handling of the diesel-car crisis was Schulz, whose Social Democrats have been Merkel’s coalition partner over the past four years. The scandal set off two years ago by revelations of emissions cheating by Volkswagen AG in the U.S., saw her having no plans for addressing the scandal, he alleged.

She could envisage legislation to enable vehicle owners to file collective lawsuits against carmakers over excessively polluting diesel engines, Merkel said responding to pressure from her opponent. She said that Germany allows plaintiffs to bundle lawsuits against financial companies, and the same rights could be offered to car buyers if done right.

“Yes in principle,” Merkel told ZDF. “But it has to be properly designed.”

as Merkel’s government faces pressure to ward off court-ordered diesel driving bans and avoid a collapse in diesel car sales, the diesel crisis has become a campaign issue.

It’s the government’s job to avoid driving bans, said Schulz, who doesn’t have a position in Merkel’s administration, in a campaign rally on Friday. He accused Merkel’s chancellery of blocking collective lawsuits against the auto industry in Sunday’s television interview.

“The individual consumer who drives a car and has to make his case against Volkswagen or Daimler is lost on his own,” Schulz said.

The Social Democrat also criticized Merkel and touted a 12 billion-euro ($14 billion) plan to improve schools, pressed Merkel to take a tougher stand against Erdogan over the jailing of German citizens and for failing to win over other EU countries to take in large numbers of refugees.

During the ZDF interview, Merkel acknowledged her opponent acknowledged her opponent even as she has avoided mentioning Schulz by name during campaign appearances.

“I’m happy to say those two words out loud,” she said. “And I’m looking forward to the TV debate.”

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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