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Majority finds Angela Merkel more credible and more likable than Martin / Photo: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

German chancellor trounces election rival Martin Schulz in TV debate, say viewers

Angela Merkel has been judged by viewers to be the more credible candidate following the election debate with her SPD rival, Martin Schulz. DW looks at the candidates’ positions on the key domestic and global issues.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the more convincing case to lead Germany for the next four years in Sunday’s television debate against her election rival, Martin Schulz, according to viewers.

Forty-nine per cent of viewers surveyed by German broadcaster ARD viewed Merkel as the more credible over the course of the debate, compared to just 29 per cent who favoured Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Schulz.

More than half of those surveyed (55 per cent) said the chancellor also outperformed her rival, compared to just 35 per cent who thought Schulz came out on top.

Merkel reportedly scored particularly high marks when it came to credibility, grasp of the issues and likability.

It comes after the two candidates jostled over 90 minutes on issues ranging from migration, to pensions, to Dieselgate.

Migration

Migration turned out to be the first and central issue of the debate, with Merkel remaining stern on her decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015, saying it was the “absolutely correct” thing to do.

While Schulz said he ultimately agreed with the chancellor’s decision, he rebuked her over her handling of the crisis and accused her of failing to co-ordinate a better European response. “The inclusion of our European neighbours would have been better,” Social Democrat (SPD) Schulz said, adding that earlier EU policy would have seen countries such as Poland and Hungary take more responsibility to helping settle refugees.

That forced Merkel to shoot back, saying that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban made clear from the outset that he was not willing to co-operate. “We had a very dramatic situation… There are times in the life of a chancellor when she has to decide,” said the chancellor.

The two candidates also differed on what a future migration policy for Germany should look like. Schulz called for a pan-European law on immigration, financed through Brussels, while Merkel said she favoured a skills-based policy that favoured migrants with the skills and qualifications Germany requires.

Turkey

Berlin’s increasingly strained ties with Ankara also took centre stage during Sunday’s televised debate, with Merkel announcing that she will seek to end EU accession talks with Turkey.

In what could come to be viewed as a sharp escalation, Merkel said “it is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the European Union.”

Merkel’s statement on Turkey came just minutes after Schulz said he would similarly move to halt Turkey’s EU membership talks were he elected chancellor.

The chancellor said she would discuss with fellow EU leaders to see if “we can end these membership talks,” adding that she didn’t “see (Turkey) ever joining and I had never believed that it would happen.”

Aside from ruling out EU membership, Merkel also said that Germany would look at imposing “real restrictions on economic contact” and issue a tougher warning to Germans travelling to the country.

Trump and North Korea

As the candidates turned to North Korea and its latest nuclear missile test, Schulz said that US President Donald Trump’s “unpredictability” made him the wrong person to deal with the rogue regime.

Merkel used this as an opportunity to hone her credentials as a global stateswoman, saying she had discussed the threat from Pyongyang with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, and that she planned to hold talks with Trump, as well as leaders from Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

While she stressed that she disagreed with Trump on many issues, Merkel said the North Korean crisis was not something that could be solved with the US, adding that “one must say in the clearest terms that for us, there can only be a peaceful diplomatic solution.”

© DW