BERLIN The head of Germany's Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition on Sunday denounced eurosceptic parties on the far left and right as "stupid" and pledged a tough fight against them in the European parliamentary election campaign.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, also Merkel's economy minister and head of the Social Democrats, blasted the "uniting enemies of Europe on the left and right" over their anti-European campaigning for the May election.
"Let's stand up against these stupid slogans about Germany being 'the paymaster of Europe'," Gabriel said, referring in particular to the campaign of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party that has attracted voters opposed to spending taxpayer money on bailing out struggling euro zone countries.
"We're going to defend Europe against the smart-alec professors, the former lobbyists or the left-wing radicals," Gabriel said in a speech to a special SPD congress in Berlin that overwhelmingly voted for Martin Schulz to lead the center-left party's banner in the May 25 elections.
Schulz, 58, is president of the EU parliament and harbours ambitions of becoming the EU Commission's next president.
Europe's Social Democrats were the second largest bloc behind the conservative European People's Party (EPP) in the last European parliamentary election in 2009, but hope to come out on top in May.
Polls across Europe show that socialists have a good chance of winning the most seats in the European Parliament this time. The SPD is seen as the most pro-Europe party in Germany; even while in opposition the previous four years, it voted more reliably for euro zone rescue measures in parliament than deputies in Merkel's then-center-right coalition
Schulz criticised the European Central Bank in his speech, saying it should do more to encourage banks to support the European economy. "It's not on that the banks can borrow money from the ECB for 0.25 percent interest rates and then refrain from investing those funds into the real economy," Schulz said.
The AfD on Saturday picked their leading candidate for the European elections, party chairman Bernd Lucke.
Founded less than a year ago by a group of academics and businessmen frustrated by the escalation of the euro zone financial crisis, the AfD first called for the end of the euro currency and a return to Germany's deutschemark.
But the easing of the euro crisis since then has forced it to scrap that demand - for now. The AfD would win 7 percent of the next European Parliament vote, a poll on Sunday found.
Merkel's Christian Democrats picked a political heavyweight, former Lower Saxony state premier David McAllister to head the CDU slate in the European vote.
(Reporting Holger Hansen; writing by Erik Kirschbaum)