German parties take aim at Soeder in Ash Wednesday political jibes

By Rachel More, dpa
Munich (dpa) – German political parties didn’t let the coronavirus get in the way of political Ash Wednesday, when the gloves come off for a day of searing speeches and satirical take-downs.

However, for the first time in the tradition’s over 100-year history, the events took place entirely online.

The main target of this year’s edition appeared to be Markus Soeder, the premier of the southern state of Bavaria, who is often tipped as a potential contender to run for chancellor later this year on behalf of Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc.

Olaf Scholz, finance minister and the centre-left Social Democrats’ (SPD) pick to replace Merkel as chancellor going into September elections, took on Soeder for belittling his multibillion-dollar aid programme in response to the pandemic.

While Scholz had described the package as a “bazooka,” Soeder saw it more as a “slingshot.”

“I know that everything is much bigger in Bavaria, but no one would have thought that slingshots there are of such a scale,” Scholz retorted.

Soeder also got a ribbing from the Greens, which are hoping to win a place in a governing coalition after the elections, set for September 26.

“This pandemic sometimes feels to me like a very, very long car journey towards a normal life,” said Katharina Schulze, who leads the environmental party’s group in the Bavarian state parliament.

Schulze depicted Soeder as the driver: “He talks during the whole journey, takes control of the radio” – but the high-profile politician hasn’t, in her view, prepared for the drive.

She criticized him for example for not equipping health authorities with the necessary resources to fight the virus.

Soeder, who leads the Christian Social Union (CSU), the regional sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), said their preferred new coalition partner would be the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP)

“The FDP would always be a priority partner,” Soeder mused in his speech.

Working with the Greens, on the other hand, would be “possible, [but] not easy,” he said.

“I’ll admit that the current programme that they have is not suitable for a coalition,” he added, accusing the party of being driven by fear of “radical climate activists.”

According to current public opinion polls, the CDU/CSU bloc has a clear lead but Soeder’s preferred alliance with the FDP might not be enough to clinch a majority in parliament.

The conservative incumbents stood at 35 per cent in a survey conducted by Forsa on behalf of the RTL and ntv broadcasters, results of which were released on Wednesday.

They were followed by the Greens on 19 per cent, then Merkel’s current coalition partners, the SPD, on 16 per cent, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and hard-left Die Linke, both on 8 per cent, and the FDP on 7 per cent.

Merkel’s current fourth term will be her last. The long-serving chancellor plans to retire from politics following the election.


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