Stung by sliding opinion polls six days before a general election, German conservatives warned on Monday that a vote for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s rival Social Democrats (SPD) could bring ex-communists to power.

“People have to know, anyone who votes for SPD does not know what they are getting,” Volker Kauder, campaign manager for the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), told reporters.

Kauder dismissed as empty the promises by Schroeder, chancellor for the last seven years, that he would never form a government with ex-communists and leftists even if he could after the September 18 election.

The CDU under Angela Merkel has watched in growing alarm as Schroeder has cut its poll lead to the point where a centre-right CDU coalition with the liberal Free Democrats, once seen as a near certainty, may no longer be possible.

Instead, a “grand coalition” with the centre-left SPD looks likeliest. It’s a result feared by financial markets but which many voters feel would bring reforms favoured by Merkel while ensuring Germany’s social welfare system remains intact.

Now the Conservatives fear a third possibility — that a hung parliament could open the way to a left-wing coalition between the SPD, environmental Greens and the new Left Party. ~Reuters

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is headed for a fall, in spite of the fact that Gerhard Schroeder is perhaps the single-most incompetent Chancellor post-war Germany/West Germany has had. Despite continuing personal popularity (which, quite properly, matters less in a parliamentary system), he has led the SPD from weakness to weakness as Socialists have been routinely defeated in state elections over the past three years, both in the east and even in some of the oldest, most unassailable strongholds of their party. Only thanks to the drab shambles of a campaign run by Frau Merkel does the left even stand a chance of governing again.

So assured of victory were the Christian Democrats that they genuinely believed that someone who had never fought a major electoral campaign could lead their effort with no adverse side effects. As for her foreign policy views, which admittedly probably have little directly to do with her party’s collapsing support, Merkel had also publicly more or less mocked the antiwar sentiments of some 70-80% of the public, while pointedly ignoring the Vatican’s statements on invading Iraq. (Christian Democracy has, of course, gone very far away from its roots as organised political Catholicism, and it was always a secular, and never simply sectarian, political movement, but for the CDU chairman to blow off the Pope’s counsel was impressively bad form.) But it cannot have entirely escaped the voters’ memories that Frau Merkel would have been only too happy to bow and scrape with most of the other center-right and ex-communist governments of Europe in deference to Mr. Bush over Iraq.

Now the CDU is reduced to the sorriest attempt of all–to pretend that they are the incumbents and that Schroeder and his gang represent the unknown. This seems like a reprise of the amusing, but completely ineffective “New Labour, New Danger” rhetoric with which the Tories spectacularly failed in 1997. The difference then was, at least, that the Tories were the party of government. Even if the warning about an incumbent party’s dangerous future configuration is true, it does not sound convincing and rings of desperation and intellectual bankruptcy. That must be all the CDU had to work with in the first place if Frau Merkel was their best candidate.