German cabinet sets September 22 for federal election

Germany's cabinet on Wednesday proposed September 22 as the date for national elections in Europe's top economy, as a new opinion poll put Chancellor Angela Merkel's party 16 points ahead of her nearest rival.

The cabinet proposed the date after the main political parties and the majority of Germany's 16 states signed up to September 22.

President Joachim Gauck must give his final assent before the date becomes official.

If the election were held today, Merkel would enjoy a comfortable lead over her rivals, a Forsa survey in Stern magazine published Wednesday suggested.

The poll put Merkel's conservative bloc at 41 percent, well ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) on 25 percent.

However, Germany's complex coalition-based political system means that although Merkel is likely to remain chancellor, if the polls stay the same, she may have to change coalition partner.

Her current partner, the pro-business Free Democrats polled four percent, according to the Forsa survey, leaving them short of the required five percent for parliamentary representation.

The SPD's preferred partner, the ecologist Greens, polled 15 percent of the vote in the Forsa survey, giving them a combined total of 40 percent, meaning the race could yet be very close.

Germans do not elect their chancellors directly, but if they could, the poll showed that Merkel would be a clear winner.

She would win 58 percent of the vote in a straight run-off with the SPD's candidate for chancellor, former finance minister Peer Steinbrueck, who would garner a mere 21 percent.

A quarter of SPD voters said they would vote for Merkel, shunning Steinbrueck, whose campaign has got off to a false start amid verbal gaffes and his admission he pocketed some 1.25 million euros for making speeches.

Forsa's survey was conducted between January 28 and February 1 with 2,500 voters polled.