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Floods spill into German election campaign

Date: 15-Aug-02
Country: GERMANY
Author: Adam Tanner

He also set off to tour the flood areas in the east, where voters are seen as less party loyal than in the west and thus more likely to change their alliances at the last minute. A poll this week showed the SPD gaining ground in the volatile region.

Saxony state premier Georg Mildbradt said six people had died in his eastern region and the death toll could rise.

Members of the Greens party, Schroeder's junior partner in Social Democrat-led coalition, said the floods highlighted the importance of environmental protection as a campaign issue and reinforced the case for the energy taxes conservatives reject.

Environment Minister Juergen Trittin, a Green, said higher global temperatures in recent decades had led to rising sea levels and increased rainfall and were at least partially to blame for a bout of unpredictable weather seen in recent years.

"Mankind shares a real co-responsibility," Trittin told a news conference. "It is unacceptable for American citizens to pump twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as Europeans," he said earlier in an ARD television interview.

The Greens have lost support in polls and could well lose a place in the government unless they have a change of fortune.

PLAN FULFILLED AND OVERFULFILLED

At a news conference, Schroeder mentioned his environmental record and Germany's success at reducing emissions of so-called greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming, but said he did not want to make floods an election issue.

"We are practically the only ones in Europe who have fulfilled and surpassed our agreed emissions goal," he said.

He said the cabinet had approved immediate aid of 100 million euros ($98.72 million), called for charitable contributions and announced plans to issue a new postage stamp to help raise funds. He declined to say whether government environmental policy could help stem future floods.

"I would not like to engage in a debate on what is to be done on the middle and long term," he said. "Nothing would be worse than a such a debate while we are discussing the issue of bringing help to people."

Other Schroeder allies were gladly debating the issue.

"The conservatives and the Free Democrats will be challenged to give up their resistance finally to a renewal of energy, transportation and farm policies," said Social Democrat member of parliament Michael Mueller.

Conservatives led by Edmund Stoiber have made the faltering German economy their campaign focus. He has put together a sort of shadow cabinet ahead of the election, but has not named an environmental adviser, a fact highlighted by Greens critics.

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