Merkel challenger remains confident of unseating chancellor

FILE - In this June 27, 2017 file photo Martin Schulz, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Chancellor candidate for the upcoming general elections, addresses the media during a party's press conference in Berlin, Germany. Schulz, Angela Merkel’s main challenger in the country’s upcoming general election says he remains confident he can unseat the chancellor despite her wide lead in the polls. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

BERLIN — Angela Merkel's main challenger in the country's upcoming general election said Sunday he remains confident he can unseat the chancellor despite her wide lead in the polls.

Martin Schulz, who was president of the European Parliament until January, said on Germany's ZDF television's "Berlin Direkt" program that there are still six weeks of campaigning to go before the Sept. 24 vote.

"I think that I still have a good chance to lead the next government," he said.

Still, with Germany enjoying record-low unemployment, a balanced budget and a strong economy, the 61-year-old Schulz faces an uphill battle to defeat Merkel and was challenged in the 15-minute interview to say why people should vote for his party over her Christian Democrats.

"Germany is doing well... but the statement that Germany is doing well doesn't mean that all Germans are doing well," he said. "We must be much better in many areas."

Schulz also noted that his Social Democrats are currently Merkel's junior coalition partner in government, and that credit for successes should not be hers alone. He said he'd be happy to form another so-called grand coalition after the election, but "under my leadership."

Schulz said there needs to be more investment in digital infrastructure, training programs, and help for lower-income families struggling to make ends meet.

Asked why a voter should "take a risk" to vote Merkel out, he said: "it's the opposite; we are taking a risk if we do nothing."

The latest poll, by the Emnid agency for Bild newspaper on Sunday, showed Schulz's Social Democrats gaining a percentage point to 24 percent support, compared to a steady 38 percent support for Merkel's conservative bloc. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percent.

Schulz struggled at times during the interview to differentiate his positions from those of Merkel, saying, for example, that he would not argue with the chancellor's call for a de-escalation of rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea and ruling out of a military solution.

He said it was his principle that the government needed to stand together in times of such a crisis.

"You have to simply live with the fact that I'm one of those politicians who has principles," he said.

He also echoed Merkel's criticism from Saturday of Germany's auto industry in the wake of a diesel emissions cheating scandal, saying that wealthy "managers at VW, at Daimler, have missed the future" by not investing in alternative technologies earlier.

Now, he said, there seems to be the thought that the diesel drivers, like commuters, delivery services and craftspeople, "should pay the bill."

"I'm strongly against that," he said.

"The irresponsible managers of the automobile industry should take responsibility."

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