Germany: Merkel's challenger lists red lines for governing

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(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader). Martin Schulz, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party, SPD, and Chancellor candidate for the upcoming general elections, gestures during his speech at an election campaign in Regensburg, Germany, Friday, Sept. 8, 2... (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader). Martin Schulz, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party, SPD, and Chancellor candidate for the upcoming general elections, gestures during his speech at an election campaign in Regensburg, Germany, Friday, Sept. 8, 2...
By GEIR MOULSON
Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-left challenger set out Monday what he said are non-negotiable aims for entering Germany's next government, among them ensuring equal pay for men and women and insisting that the retirement age mustn't rise beyond 67.

Martin Schulz is trying to boost his Social Democrats' flagging campaign in the final stretch before Germany's Sept. 24 election. Polls show the party trailing Merkel's conservatives by 13-16 points, and no majority for any feasible Schulz-led coalition.

That suggests their best chance of governing is continuing as Merkel's junior coalition partners in a "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties. But Schulz insists that half of voters are undecided and he still has a chance.

"Anyone who wants to remove Merkel must vote for Schulz," he said at a news conference. "Anyone who votes for other parties will get Merkel."

Schulz set out four points on which he said his party won't compromise: equal chances in education, including scrapping kindergarten fees; equal pay; holding the retirement age; and "protecting German and European values in a stable European Union."

Schulz also renewed a pledge to oppose an "armament spiral" and said he won't - unlike Merkel - commit to dedicating 2 percent of gross domestic product to defense spending according to NATO guidelines. Germany is one of many countries falling short, with the figure currently at 1.23 percent.

The U.S. administration has stepped up pressure on NATO allies to reach 2 percent, but Schulz's Social Democrats have questioned for months whether NATO ever agreed to it as a firm target. They point to a 2014 summit declaration that said allies "aim to move toward the 2 percent guideline within a decade."

A senior Merkel ally said Schulz's points were largely already being addressed, and said they sound "a bit amusing."

"These red lines really aren't a big deal," Volker Kauder, the leader of her conservatives' parliamentary caucus, told ZDF television.

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