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German candidates fail to find proper steps in response to flooding




BERLIN The floods have had a way of reshaping German politics.

Helmut Schmidt made a name for himself in response to the deadly floods in Hamburg in 1962, and went on to become chancellor in the 1970s. Images of Gerhard Schrder running through muddy water along the Elbe River in 2002 are credited with helping him win a next term.

The floods that devastated Germany last week more severe than others in centuries are already doing their job this election year. But the impressive thing they have discovered, political analysts say, is that none of the leading candidates has been able to demonstrate the level of leadership in a crisis the public is accustomed to under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While deadly floods have offered candidates a chance to show their stuff, political experts said everyone has struggled to communicate competence and security. Voters seem to agree.

The first poll since the floods showed a drop in popularity for the two main candidates Conservative Armin Laschet and his Green Party rival Annalena Baerbock after what political experts say have been poor performances by both this week.

This will not be a choice in which candidates play a crucial role, said Uwe Jun, a professor of political science at the University of Trier. None of the candidates has some kind of dominant charisma that is able to fully convince voters.

Floods have killed 170 people, with more than 150 still missing, police said on Wednesday. The number of missing is significantly lower than the figures announced last week, when communications networks collapsed and blocked roads made many people inaccessible.

In the latest poll, which was conducted from Tuesday to Sunday, Mr. Christian Democratic Union leader Laschets fell below 30 percent of support, to 28 percent, while their main rivals, the Greens in second place, held steady at 19 percent.

When asked if they could vote for an individual candidate (Germans voted only for parties) who would get their approval, only 23 per cent said Mr Laschet, according to a poll by Forst set of surveys.

On Saturday, Mr Laschet came under fierce public criticism after being caught on camera talking and laughing with colleagues, while President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was giving a solemn statement to reporters after the two had met with flood victims in the city of Erftstadt.

Mr Laschet, 60, who is governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, was forced to apologize. On Tuesday he visited another ruined city along with the chancellor.

If there is one thing that Ms. Merkel has learned in her four term in office, it is how to be calm in the face of disaster either by pledging to keep German savings safe in 2008, or by crossing the flooded streets of East Germany five years later .

Standing close to her Tuesday after meeting volunteers in the town of Bad Mnstereifel, Mr. Laschet tried a more manly tone. He provided an open ear and a supportive blow to the shoulder for people clearing mud and debris from their homes, as well as condolences to the victims.

Nothing we can do can bring them back and we barely have a word for the suffering of those who survived, he said, vowing to double his states’ contribution to emergency aid. So we are doing our part, he said.

Ms Merkel’s government on Wednesday approved an emergency aid package of 200m euros, or $ 235m, to be paid immediately to flood victims. This figure will be matched by the affected states.

About 6 billion euros, $ 7 billion, will be needed to repair damaged infrastructure, including roads, bridges, homes and buildings.

Most of this money will flow through the finance ministry headed by Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat who is also running for chancellor. Getting financial aid for people can quickly give him an edge, but so far he has failed to turn his position into a political advantage, experts say.

If we need more money, then we will make it available, said Mr. Scholz, 63, to reporters in Berlin, We will do what we have to do to help anyone who needs it.

Mr Scholz visited the affected communities in the Rhineland-Palatinate last week and then headed to the southern state of Bavaria just days after heavy rains stopped there. But he has failed to connect with voters in a meaningful way, experts said. His party won just 1 percentage point in the most recent poll and Mr Scholzs’s personal popularity remained unchanged.

He is a candidate for whom people just can not really warm up, said Mr. Jun.

But if any party is to be able to find a political advantage in last week’s events, it must be the Greens, who are pushing for Germany to accelerate its transformation into a green economy for decades.

Particularly popular among the country’s youngest voters, climate issues have helped the Greens replace the Social Democrats as the second most popular party in recent years. But after their candidate for chancellor, Mrs. Baerbock, 40, stumbled upon allegations of plagiarism in a recently published book and inaccuracies in her rsum, even a deadly weather disaster seemed incapable of setting up parties significantly.

The Greens remained in second place, according to the latest poll, with 19 percent enough support to form a majority if they would agree to join forces in a Conservative-led government. Laschets, in a connection that many observers believe would be the most likely coalition.

Making Ms. Baerbocks’ position more difficult is the fact that she currently does not hold a political office that would give her the opportunity to make a public visit to the hit regions, as both of her competitors do.

Last week she decided not to take news media members with her when she visited communities in Rhineland-Palatinate affected by severe weather.

In several subsequent interviews, Ms. Baerbock called on Germany to move faster in its coal outflow, currently planned for 2030, and to increase spending to better prepare communities for the dangers posed by extreme weather. She also presented a three-point plan that included adapting to climate change, amid efforts to halt it.

This is not one or between climate precautionary measures, climate adaptation and climate protection, but a trio that is placed in the same way in all climate protection treaties around the world, said Ms. Baerbock for ARD public television.

After the floods of recent weeks, the Greens are no longer the only party making such calls, but as images of destruction are pulled from the headlines, its party remains in the strongest position to win voters out of renewed focus on threat presented by changes in world climate.

I guess the weather events will really raise the issue of climate change at the top of the electorate agenda, which will help the Greens, said Ursula Mnch, director of the Academy of Political Education in Ttzing, but added that she would not enough of an advantage to close the gap with the leading conservatives. Still will not help Ms. Baerbock in the chancellors’ office.




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