German chancellor Angela Merkel has “lost touch” with ordinary people, does not know how to handle Dieselgate, and is too soft on Turkey, her main election rival, Martin Schulz, has said.

Schulz launched his attack in an interview with ARD, a German broadcaster, on Sunday (27 August), ahead of the elections on 24 September.

He accused her of using state helicopters to fly to rallies.

“More and more people are seeing this as a kind of aloofness that is already playing a big role in this campaign and will mobilise my voters,” he said.

He also compared her to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who like Merkel, spent more than a decade in office.

“Merkel is lost in reverie … The last four years of the Kohl era was a period of stagnation and political agony. I want to spare Germany that again,” Schulz said.

Schulz, a 61-year-old former European Parliament president, is trailing in polls.

The last one, by Infratest for ARD, said his centre-left SPD party had dropped two points to 22 percent, while Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU party had 38 percent.

But Schulz said he was putting his hope in the 46 percent of people who had still not decided whom to vote for.

“I want to reach those undecided people. And if I can do that, then I can win,” he said.

With the SPD focusing on social justice, he attacked Merkel for blocking plans to let people file collective lawsuits against VW, a German car maker, for selling diesel engines with fake emissions standards – the so-called Dieselgate scandal.

“The individual consumer who drives a car and has to make his case against Volkswagen or Daimler is lost on his own”, he said.

He said Merkel had done too little to make other EU states take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, but his main foreign policy gripe was her handling of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He sad that if Erdogan did not free German journalist Deniz Yucel or human rights activist Peter Steudtner then he would block plans to extend the EU-Turkey customs union.

“I would do it as a federal chancellor,” he said.

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