To tax or not to tax? Chancellor Angela Merkel's opponents want to raise income tax rate for top earners to 49 from 42 percent, a change they say is needed to finance investment in education, infrastructure and other priorities. Merkel's center-right alliance says raising taxes would harm the economy, which unlike many others in Europe is growing. It says Germany's tax take is healthier than it has been for years.
A minimum wage? Merkel's opponents want to introduce a mandatory minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.30) per hour. Germany has long been one of the few Western countries without a minimum wage; Merkel and her allies favor sector-by-sector and region-by-region deals between employers and employees rather than a one-size-fits-all minimum.
EUROPE'S DEBT CRISIS:
How to help? Merkel says Germany must stick to her approach of insisting that struggling countries fulfill tough conditions in exchange for aid, and vehemently opposes any pooling of European nations' debt. She also advocates a gradual approach to setting up a banking union that's seen as a key to regaining markets' confidence, arguing that European treaties would need changing to set up a single body to deal with bust banks.
Challenger Peer Steinbrueck's Social Democrats and their Green allies have voted for most of Merkel's policies in the euro crisis but criticized her for over-emphasizing austerity. Steinbrueck's party calls for a greater emphasis on economic growth as well as a debt-redemption fund that would see some eurozone debt pooled, while Europe's strugglers would be made to get their budgets in order. It also wants faster progress on the banking union. The Greens go further and advocate jointly issued eurobonds—though they say that's only a long-term aim.
Meanwhile a new party, called Alternative for Germany, has been appealing to those voters who believe Germany should never have entered into a currency union with the economically weak. The party wants to abolish the euro entirely.
FAMILIES AND BENEFITS:
Who gets benefits? Merkel's opponents are pledging to scrap a new benefit for parents who choose to stay at home and invest the money in day-care facilities.
Full marriage and adoption for gay couples? Not with Merkel unless Germany's highest court makes her. Germany offers same-sex couples partnerships that fall short of marriage; Merkel's conservatives have balked at going further, but past court decisions have forced her to extend gay couples' rights. Other parties gay favor marriage and adoption.
Going green? Everyone agrees on phasing out nuclear power by 2022, but there are differences over how to manage the switchover to renewable energy and keep down electricity prices. Steinbrueck's Social Democrats, for example, advocate forcing power companies to cut prices, but Merkel and her allies say that wouldn't solve problems stemming from legislation on renewable energy subsidies.
Who knew what and when? Merkel's government has faced tough questions over what it knew of the electronic intelligence gathering conducted by U.S. agencies on German soil. Even her coalition partners the Free Democrats have demanded more answers following the revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, partly to bolster their credibility as a party that takes civil liberties seriously. The upstart Pirate Party has made it their main election issue, but it remains to be seen how heavily personal privacy will feature in voters' election decisions.