25-billion-euro roads project among Merkel election pledges: draft manifesto

BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives plan to woo voters with family-friendly promises and infrastructure spending worth tens of billions of euros in elections three months from now, said a draft policy manifesto seen on Tuesday.

Aside from pledges not to raise taxes, to boost the economy and to slash public debt, the party would also extend tax breaks for families with children and raise pension entitlements for stay-at-home mothers.

One of the costliest proposals ahead of the September 22 vote earmarks 25 billion euros (S$41.77 billion) over four years to upgrade the national highway system, said the 125-page draft of a paper to be voted on at a party meeting on Sunday.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Ms Merkel - who has been accused of co-opting key issues of the centre-left opposition - would also propose tighter limits on annual rent increases in regions with housing shortages.

A rule that allows couples to pool and split their income and thereby lower their tax would be extended to help especially families with children, along with other rewards for couples who help rejuvenate the ageing nation.

There was disquiet within her party about the planned spending spree.

"The race by the parties to outbid each other with ever more new social welfare such as the mothers' pension is irresponsible," the general secretary of the CDU Economic Council, Wolfgang Steiger, told news portal Spiegel Online.

The party rejects a plan for nationwide minimum wage championed by the opposition Social Democrats but proposes that employers and unions hammer out minimum wages by region and industrial sector.

On the stewardship of Europe's biggest economy, the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU reiterate that "we stand for a strong euro and price stability" while rejecting the pooling of public debt in the 17-member euro zone.

The party of Ms Merkel, often voted Germany's most popular politician, enjoys a healthy poll lead ahead of the election, although the weakness of her coalition allies the pro-business Free Democrats could force it to seek a new coalition partner.

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