Schulz on offensive over Turkey, refugees in TV clash with Merkel

BERLIN, Friederike Heine and Andrew McCathie (dpa) - The main rival to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Martin Schulz, said he would cancel EU membership negotiations with Turkey if he won in national elections later this month, as the two party leaders faced off in a live television debate on Sunday.
The head-to-head debate - a climax of the election campaign - was seen as Schulz's best chance of denting his rival's substantial lead in the opinion polls ahead of elections in three weeks' time.

"When I am chancellor I will cancel the EU membership negotiations with Turkey," the Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader said.
Accession talks between Turkey and the European Union are currently at a standstill. Relations between the two sides - and in particular between Ankara and Berlin - have deteriorated amid the increasingly authoritarian leadership of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Merkel hit back at Schulz by saying that cancelling the EU's membership negotiations with Turkey was not a decision that Germany could make unilaterally.
She added that she was in favour of suspending pre-accession financial assistance to Turkey, amounting to some 600 million euros (713 million dollars) per year, and that this would effectively result in the end of membership negotiations.
"I was always certain that Turkey would not become a member of the European Union," Merkel said.
The stakes were high for Schulz in the 97-minute debate, which was shown by all the major German broadcasters and watched by as many as 20 million people.
His SPD lag some 17 percentage points behind Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) in the latest polls, and he had hoped to win over the 40 per cent of survey respondents who said they weren't sure whom to vote for on September 24.
But he may not have achieved his aim, according a poll released by public broadcaster ZDF after the only head-to-head debate of the campaign. It showed that 32 per cent of viewers thought Merkel had won the political tussle, while only 29 per cent said that Schulz had come out on top. Thirty-nine per cent of the representative sample of viewers were undecided.
Schulz attacked Merkel for admitting stranded refugees in September 2015 without adequately involving Germany's European partners.
The opening of Germany's borders to refugees, which resulted in the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees, was one of the most controversial decisions taken by Merkel during her third term in office.
Merkel defended her subsequent backing of a controversial deal reached between the EU and Turkey to block the route for refugees, saying it was "absolutely correct" to do so.
The much-criticized deal was struck in order to stem the flow of refugees, mostly from Syria, who went through Turkey en route to Europe.
Turning to the topic of North Korea's latest nuclear test, Schulz said that US President Donald Trump was the wrong person to end the conflict.
"The problem is the unpredictability of Trump," he said, adding that Europe and Germany needed predictable people in the White House.
Merkel, meanwhile, called for Europe to make a "stronger commitment" to resolving the nuclear conflict, saying that "a lot depends on a peaceful solution."
A poll released by public broadcaster ZDF on Friday showed that only 28 per cent of voters would back 61-year-old Schulz, the former European Parliament president, for chancellor.
Fifty-seven per cent said they would back the 63-year-old Merkel.
The ZDF poll also showed the SPD garnering only 22 per cent of the vote – well behind the 39 per cent of voters backing Merkel's conservative CDU and it Bavarian-based Christian Social Union allies.
Merkel's CDU and Schulz's SPD have been part of a grand coalition since 2013.
Schulz challenged Merkel to a second round, in a Facebook post after the debate ended. "None of the questions over the future (of Germany) were addressed - shame!" he said.
"I would be willing to have a second debate, but (Merkel) clearly doesn't want that," he added.
Towards the end of the debate, Schulz declined to rule out the possibility that the SPD would once again be a junior partner in a coalition led by Merkel.

Monday, September 4th 2017
Friederike Heine and Andrew McCathie

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