Merkel faces election dogfight as Schulz ahead
German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted she was facing the toughest election campaign of her career yesterday after an opinion poll found her party trailing for the first time in almost seven years.
Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president and outspoken European Union critic, is leading the race to be Germany's next leader, according to the poll for 'Bild' newspaper. His centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD) came first with 31pc, ahead of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) on 30pc. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) was in the third place with 12pc.
It is the first time the CDU has been beaten into second place since 2010.
"This will be the hardest election campaign I have ever fought," Ms Merkel said at a press conference in Munich. "We have quite a fight on our hands, and we have plenty of work ahead of us."
Mr Schulz has emerged as the most serious challenger Ms Merkel has faced in more than a decade in power.
Support for the SPD has surged 10 percentage points in the two weeks since he took over as party leader after the resignation of Sigmar Gabriel.
In a sign of the panic gripping Ms Merkel's camp, one of the harshest critics of her refugee policy yesterday agreed to set aside their differences and work towards her re-election.
Horst Seehofer, the leader of Ms Merkel's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), was threatening to pull out of an electoral alliance with her unless she agreed to a limit on the number of refugees allowed into Germany. However, the two leaders put on a show of unity at a joint press conference to endorse Ms Merkel's candidacy. All differences seemed forgotten as Mr Seehofer praised her "dazzling" record as chancellor.
Ms Merkel said she was taking the threat from Mr Schulz seriously.
The SPD seized on the poll findings as evidence that the tide of German politics had turned in its favour.
"Merkel is finished, just like Kohl was in 1998," Johannes Kahrs, an MP from the party, told 'Welt' newspaper, referring to Helmut Kohl, the former chancellor. "People want a fresh face."
"There is something of a weariness when it comes to Merkel," Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING-Diba bank, told Bloomberg news agency. "Martin Schulz is Angela Merkel with a beard," Hermann Binkert, head of the Insa polling institute, told 'Bild'. (© Daily Telegraph London)