German election: Chancellor hopefuls discuss EU cooperation in final debate

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Germany’s three chancellor candidates and leaders of the country’s top political parties clashed on Thursday in a final televised debate ahead of Sunday’s election.

The chancellor frontrunners discussed closer cooperation in Europe and a common approach in foreign policy, a contrast with the previous debates that focussed on climate change, immigration and social issues, as they try to convince voters to head to the polls.

Current frontrunner Olaf Scholz, from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), said Europe needed to be united while also working closely with the United States and NATO.

“We are the big country in the middle of the European Union with the biggest population and the biggest economic strength,” Scholz said. “And therefore we need to make sure that Europe speaks with a more united voice.”

Armin Laschet, leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union bloc, also spoke out for a stronger and more united Europe, adding that the continent should cooperate on common arms projects.

“We need more Europe, we need to speak with one voice,” Laschet, Angela Merkel’s successor as party leader, said. “We need to start projects together, also arms projects to be able to act together.”

Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock said Europe needed to find a common approach on how to interact with China.

“I want to make sure that we create a united, European approach toward China in which one (EU) country doesn’t get played off against the other,” she said.

This year’s close race means the next government will likely need three parties to form a coalition.

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The centre-left SPD is currently polling ahead of the centre-right CDU/CSU bloc. While the Greens are currently polling in third place, they could play kingmakers as parties work to form a governing coalition.

Angela Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, is not seeking a fifth term.

Slightly over 60 million Germans will elect a new parliament. The party with the most seats will seek to form a coalition government and gets its candidate elected as chancellor by lawmakers.

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