Angela Merkel: the chance to become the German`s first female leader

Germany's conservative opposition on Monday nominated Angela Merkel, a Protestant minister's daughter from the formerly communist east, as its challenger to Chancellor &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Gerhard Schroeder, giving her the chance to become the country's first female leader.

Merkel, 50, emerged as favorite to challenge Schroeder after the chancellor called for national elections to be advanced by a year following a shattering state election defeat for his party a week ago.

Merkel, who was greeted by tumultuous applause at the conservatives' Berlin headquarters, pledged to make her priority tackling Germany's 12 percent jobless rate -- and moved to rebut government charges that she would govern as a "market radical." "At the center of my thinking and action will stand ways of creating work for people in Germany," she said. "We need an agenda for work."

Merkel also has spoken out Schroeder's strident criticism of U.S. policy on &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Iraq and says good relations with Washington should be a "fundamental element" in German policy, tells the News Day.

Under Schroeder, Germany struggled with three years of near-zero growth, which ended with a modest recovery last year – not enough to cut the unemployment rate.

Many economists and business leaders blame rigid regulations on hiring and firing, which scare businesses off adding people when times are good for fear they cannot trim payrolls in a downturn. Also blamed are heavy payroll taxes to pay for health and old-age care and pensions.

High labour costs have pushed companies to move many jobs to new members of the European Union such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia where wages are lower. Merkel warned that Germany cannot hide from the global economy – even though it is not about to cut costs to the same level.

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