Contains selective news articles I select

Archive for the ‘United Land of Germany’ Category

Merkel in line for a fourth term after months of uncertainty

March 04, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Germany ended months of political uncertainty Sunday when Chancellor Angela Merkel gained the support needed to preserve her governing coalition and secure a fourth term as leader of Europe’s most powerful economy.

The center-left Social Democrats voted overwhelmingly to remain in a coalition with Merkel’s conservative bloc, after difficult and drawn-out negotiations triggered by September’s elections, which saw the rise of a new right-wing force in German politics and raised questions about Merkel’s future.

Parliament is expected to meet March 14 to re-elect Merkel as chancellor, ending the longest time Germany has been without a new government after elections in its postwar history. Merkel has drawn flak from both left and right for maintaining an unabashedly centrist course since taking office in 2005. With the coalition approved, she can now turn her attention to tackling rising anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany while pushing forward efforts to reform the stumbling European Union.

“I congratulate the SPD on this clear result and look forward to continuing to work together for the good of our country,” she said on Twitter. Merkel’s survival drew cheers from her allies at home and abroad, with French President Emmanuel Macron declaring it “good news for Europe.”

“France and Germany will work together in the coming weeks to develop new initiatives and advance the European project,” Macron said in a statement. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel expressed hope that the end of Germany’s six-month political limbo would allow the EU to step up efforts to deal with such issues as immigration, security and trade.

In a veiled reference to the United States under President Donald Trump, Michel cited the threat of protectionism, the weakening of international cooperation and the issue of climate change as challenges the 28-nation bloc must face.

Merkel, who has proved herself a shrewd international negotiator during more than 12 years in office, faced her greatest challenge at home after deciding to allow over a million asylum-seekers into Germany since 2015. An anti-migrant party came in third in last year’s election, upending Germany’s traditional coalition calculus.

With Merkel’s bloc and the second-place Social Democrats in government, the right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, now represents the biggest opposition party in Parliament, giving it a prominent platform to attack the chancellor.

Its leaders have vowed to “hunt” Merkel, though so far AfD’s novice lawmakers have stood out mainly by failing to grasp parliamentary procedures and putting forward motions all other parties reject. The Social Democrats were initially reluctant to extend their coalition with Merkel but eventually agreed to a deal that gives them control of the foreign, labor and finance ministries — three major portfolios — in return for supporting curbs on immigration.

Conservatives in Merkel’s bloc have demanded the country of about 80 million take in no more than about 200,000 migrants a year. Immigration is expected to be a key issue in this fall’s state election in Bavaria, where Merkel’s allies fear the fallout from her open-door policies.

Some within the Social Democratic Party, particularly on the left, had argued that the party wouldn’t benefit from propping up Merkel for another term. In the end, though, two-thirds of its 464,000 members voted in favor of the coalition deal.

Had the long-time German leader faced a “no” result, she would have been left with only two realistic options: forming a minority government or seeking a new election. “This was a really important democratic decision for our country,” said acting Social Democrat leader Olaf Scholz, who is in line to become Germany’s next finance minister and Merkel’s deputy. The party will put forward six names for ministerial posts in the coming days.

In a first step at rejuvenating her party, Merkel has already named several up-and-coming figures to replace veteran ministers in the next Cabinet and backed Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for a key post at the top of the party in what some commentators say could signal Merkel’s preferred successor.


Cheers, protests as German court lets cities ban diesel cars

February 27, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Handing environmentalists a landmark victory, a German court ruled Tuesday that cities can ban diesel cars and trucks to combat air pollution, a decision with far-reaching and costly implications in the country where the diesel engine was invented in the 1890s.

The ruling by the Federal Administrative Court stirred fears from motorists, auto dealers and other businesses worried about the financial impact. And Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government scrambled to reassure drivers it would seek to prevent such drastic measures by pushing other ways to reduce urban pollution.

Diesel automobiles are a popular alternative to gasoline-powered ones in Germany, with about 9 million diesel cars and several million trucks, buses and other vehicles affected by the ruling. Overall, 1 in 3 passenger cars in Germany, home to such automakers as Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW, are diesel-powered, though the cleanest, most modern models would probably still be allowed even if cities decided on a ban.

“It’s a great day for clean air in Germany,” said Juergen Resch, head of the group Environmental Action Germany, which had sued dozens of German cities for failing to meet legally binding emissions limits.

While diesel cars produce less carbon dioxide and tend to get better mileage than gas-powered vehicles, they emit higher levels of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, contributing to respiratory illnesses and 6,000 deaths annually, according to government figures.

Two German states had appealed lower court decisions that suggested bans on particularly dirty diesel cars would be effective. Germany’s highest administrative court rejected that appeal Tuesday, effectively instructing two cities at the center of the case — Stuttgart and Duesseldorf — to consider bans as part of their clean air plans.

What comes next is an open question. It’s not clear whether cities will actually move to ban diesels. And if they do so, it remains to be seen whether automakers will be forced to upgrade exhaust and software systems or buy back vehicles; if the government will offer consumers incentives; or if owners will be left on their own, forced to bear the costs.

The Leipzig-based administrative court said cities won’t be required to compensate drivers for being unable to use their diesel cars. Speaking on behalf of automakers, Matthias Wissmann, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, stressed that the government could ease the uncertainty by not leaving it to cities to decide on a case-by-case basis.

“We hope it comes to sensible national regulations,” he said. European cities considering diesel bans like Copenhagen and Paris will be watching how the situation plays out in Germany as they make their own decisions.

Jeff Schuster, an analyst with the consulting firm LMC Automotive near Detroit, said diesel bans could spread to other polluted European cities. But he said the market in Europe, China and elsewhere was already headed in that direction because of the big push toward electric vehicles and the damage done by the Volkswagen diesel-emissions cheating scandal.

Diesels make up a smaller part of the American auto market, and so any bans in Europe would have little effect on the U.S., Schuster said. For the past two years in the U.S., only 2.7 percent of registered vehicles were diesel, according to Kelley Blue Book.

New diesel car sales in Germany were already declining in anticipation of the decision, and also because of the VW scandal. Used-car dealers fretted about what the ruling will mean for the vehicles on their lots.

“The prices as well as the demand are going down rapidly,” said Marcel del Arbol, owner of R&M used car dealership in Frankfurt. “What happened today will bring the prices down even more. German car companies dipped on the stock market following the ruling but mostly recovered, with Volkswagen down 0.9 percent at the end of the day, BMW down 0.06 percent and Daimler up 0.2 percent.

Analysts said the ruling might actually prove to be a boon for the economy if drivers choose to upgrade their engines or buy new models. Merkel sought to downplay the prospect of widespread diesel driving bans, suggesting that many of the 70 German cities that regularly exceed pollution limits might be able to cut harmful emissions with other measures such as software upgrades in vehicles and converting bus and taxi fleets to electric power.

Experts, however, questioned whether bans can be avoided and accused the German government of ignoring the health problems caused by diesel for too long. Fritz Kuhn, the Green Party mayor of Stuttgart, home to automakers Daimler and Porsche, accused the government of leaving it to cities to clean up the mess by failing to provide a nationwide solution.

Political leaders stressed that diesel owners shouldn’t have to shoulder the full burden of a ban. “The auto industry that caused the harmful emissions has to upgrade diesel engines at its expense,” said Kai Wegner, a lawmaker who speaks for Merkel’s party on urban issues.

The ruling alarmed groups representing small and medium-size companies. Diesels — first developed by Rudolf Diesel in Augsburg over a century ago — are a mainstay of many company fleets and are widely used by taxi companies and delivery services.

Berlin’s Chamber of Commerce said companies in the capital would have to spend 240 million euros ($295 million) to replace their fleets if diesel cars were banned — enough to drive many out of business.

Associated Press writers Kerstin Sopke in Leipzig, Christoph Noelting in Frankfurt and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

Germany’s Schulz abandons plan to become foreign minister

February 09, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, on Friday abandoned his plan to become the country’s foreign minister, hoping to prevent his party from rejecting a coalition deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The Social Democrats are putting the agreement secured Wednesday to a ballot of their more than 460,000 members. Many of them are skeptical about extending the four-year “grand coalition” of Germany’s biggest parties after a disastrous election result in September.

The Social Democrats are widely viewed to have secured a good deal in the coalition negotiations — capturing the powerful finance ministry, along with the foreign and labor ministries and three others that it already held.

But Schulz’s own plans were becoming a major distraction. The former European Parliament president said Wednesday that he planned to become Germany’s next foreign minister — a risky move given that, after the election, he had explicitly ruled out entering Merkel’s next Cabinet. He also said Andrea Nahles, the party’s parliamentary leader, would take over as the Social Democrats’ chairwoman.

In a statement Friday, Schulz said members’ approval of Germany’s new coalition government was endangered by the discussion about his future so “I will not enter the government and fervently hope that this ends the personnel debates inside the Social Democratic Party.”

“We are all in politics for the good of the people of our country,” Schulz added. “That also means that my personal ambitions must come behind the interests of the party.” The foreign ministry is currently held by Sigmar Gabriel, who handed the Social Democrats’ leadership to Schulz a year ago and has become one of Germany’s most popular politicians.

Schulz’s decision came after Gabriel complained to the Funke newspaper group about “disrespectful” behavior in the party. Gabriel said Germans appear to think he has been successful “and it’s clear I regret that the new Social Democrat leadership didn’t care about this public appreciation of my work.”

There was no immediate word on who might become foreign minister instead of Schulz, who also didn’t detail any plans for his own future. Schulz was Merkel’s defeated challenger in September. After leading his party to its worst post-World War II election result, he vowed to take the Social Democrats into opposition. He reversed course, however, after Merkel’s coalition talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.

The head of the Social Democrats’ youth wing, who is campaigning against the new coalition, said party members should give up fighting about who does what job and concentrate on debating whether the party enters the government.

Asked if he was relieved, Kevin Kuehnert replied: “I will be relieved when the ballot is done in three weeks and we have achieved a rejection of the ‘grand coalition.'”

Merkel clinches German coalition govt deal, hurdle remains

February 07, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel finally reached a deal Wednesday to form a new German coalition government, handing the powerful finance ministry to the country’s main center-left party in an agreement aimed at ending months of political gridlock.

The center-left Social Democrats’ leaders now have one last major hurdle to overcome — winning their skeptical members’ approval of the deal. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, its Bavaria-only sister, the Christian Social Union, and the center-left Social Democrats agreed after a grueling final 24 hours of negotiations on a 177-page deal that promises “a new awakening for Europe.”

“I know that millions of citizens have been watching us closely on this long road over recent weeks,” Merkel said. “They had two justified demands of us: First, finally form a government — a stable government — and second, think … of people’s real needs and interests.”

The coalition deal could be “the foundation of a good and stable government, which our country needs and many in the world expect of us,” she added. Germany has already broken its post-World War II record for the longest time between its last election on Sept. 24 to the swearing-in of a new government. That is still at least several weeks away.

Merkel currently leads a caretaker government, which isn’t in a position to launch major initiatives or play any significant role in the debate on the European Union’s future, led so far by French President Emmanuel Macron.

A key role in the EU is particularly dear to Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, a former European Parliament president. On Wednesday he declared that, with the coalition deal, Germany “will return to an active and leading role in the European Union.” The agreement states, among other things, that Germany is prepared to pay more into the EU budget.

To help that process, Schulz announced later he would hand over his party’s leadership to Andrea Nahles, the head of its parliamentary group, and take on the role of Germany’s foreign minister. Nahles will still have to be confirmed by the party.

Yet before addressing Europe’s future, Schulz faces hard work at home. The coalition accord will be put to a ballot of the Social Democrats’ more than 460,000 members, a process that will take a few weeks. Germany’s highest court said Wednesday it had dismissed a series of complaints against the ballot.

Many Social Democrats are skeptical after the party’s disastrous election result, which followed four years of serving as the junior partner to Merkel’s conservatives in a so-called “grand coalition.” The party’s youth wing vehemently opposes a repeat of that alliance.

If Social Democrat members say no, the new coalition government can’t be formed. That would leave only an unprecedented minority government under Merkel or a new election as options. Schulz had previously ruled out taking a Cabinet position under Merkel, and his decision to become foreign minister may complicate his efforts to sell the coalition deal to party members.

“We are optimistic that we can convince a wide majority of our members to enter this coalition,” he said, speaking with Nahles at his side. Schulz’s zigzag course has undermined his authority. He vowed to take the party into opposition on election night, but reversed course in November after Merkel’s efforts to build a coalition with two smaller parties collapsed.

On the conservative side, Merkel needs only the approval of a party congress of her CDU, a far lower hurdle. “I am counting on convincing our members that we have negotiated a very good coalition agreement,” Schulz said.

His party reached compromises on two key demands: curbing the use of temporary work contracts in larger companies and at least considering narrowing differences between Germany’s public and private health insurance systems.

In addition to the Foreign Ministry, the Social Democrats are set to get the Labor and Finance Ministries — the latter a major prize, held by Merkel’s CDU for the past eight years and an influential position given Germany’s status as the eurozone’s biggest economy. Unconfirmed reports in the German media say the new finance minister and vice chancellor would be Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s center-left mayor.

The Interior Ministry, also held by the CDU, would go to Bavaria’s CSU, which has pushed hard to curb the number of migrants entering Germany. Merkel’s party would keep the Defense Ministry and get the Economy and Energy Ministry, held by the Social Democrats in the outgoing government. One CDU lawmaker, Olav Gutting, wrote on Twitter: “Phew! At least we still have the chancellery!”

Merkel defended the carve-up of ministries. “Of course, after many years in which Wolfgang Schaeuble led the finance ministry and really was an institution, many find it difficult that we can no longer hold this ministry, and the same goes for the interior ministry,” she said. “But we have important jobs. We have the economy ministry for the first time in decades.”

She dismissed suggestions that Social Democrat-led ministries would force her to open Germany’s purse wider for Macron’s European reform proposals than she would like. “Regardless of whether a ministry is led by the Social Democrats or the (Christian Democratic) Union, you can only spend the money you have,” Merkel said.

If the coalition comes together, the nationalist Alternative for Germany will be the biggest opposition party. Co-leader Alexander Gauland criticized the deal, particularly the possibility of deeper European financial integration.

“You ask yourself why Mr. Macron doesn’t just move into the chancellery,” he said.

David Rising contributed to this report.

German industrial union to resume wage talks after walkouts

February 05, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s biggest industrial union is set to resume negotiations with employers after staging a series of 24-hour walkouts to ramp up pressure in a dispute over wages and working time. News agency dpa reported that the IG Metall union said the two sides would sit down for talks in Stuttgart Monday.

The union is seeking a 6-percent pay increase for some 3.9 million workers and the right to reduce work weeks to 28 hours for up to two years. The latter demand also includes extra pay to partly even out lost income for those who reduce their working hours to care for small children or a family member — a particularly difficult sticking point.

IG Metall says some 500,000 workers participated in last week’s walkouts.

German nationalist, Muslim convert: Politician is both

February 01, 2018

POTSDAM, Germany (AP) — Arthur Wagner has been many things in life: a child in the Soviet Union, a migrant in Germany, a devout Christian, an alcoholic, a truck driver and a committed member of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. Earlier this month, Wagner surprised his party colleagues by announcing that he’d converted to Islam.

The news raised eyebrows because Alternative for Germany takes a hard-line stance toward Islam: the party’s official position is that the religion has no place in Germany. Wagner, who now goes by the first name Ahmad, disagrees but doesn’t want to leave the party.

“I will always be faithful to AfD,” he told a roomful of reporters late Wednesday, referring to the party by its German acronym. Most Muslims are concerned about the rise of AfD, which came third in last year’s national elections after campaigning heavily against Islam and immigration. Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims, has accused the party of harboring “Islam haters and racists” in its ranks.

Last week AfD’s firebrand leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, Bjoern Hoecke, was caught on camera telling supporters that when the party takes power it would ensure that what he referred to as the “three Ms” of Islam — the Prophet Muhammad, the muezzins’ call to prayer and mosque minarets — “stop at the Bosphorus.”

“I don’t know what he’s been smoking,” Wagner, a long-time party member, said of Hoecke. The jolly 48-year-old, who until recently had a relatively low profile as a member of AfD’s board in the state of Brandenburg, said that rather than drawing battle lines, he wants to build bridges.

Speaking in Brandenburg’s capital Potsdam, just outside Berlin, Wagner dismissed the suggestion that he was engaged in an improbable stunt. “I’m deadly serious,” he insisted. “I see my task as creating consensus between German Islam and conservative Germans.”

Asked why he converted to Islam last year, Wagner is vague and refers to a years-long interest fed by a visit to Ufa, a center of Islamic theology in Russia. Wagner has also said he became alienated from the German Protestant Church because of its support for gay pride marches. “That made me mad,” he told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel daily. “There were children present. It’s not right for children to see such things.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how AfD would react to Wagner’s efforts to reach out to Muslims, his belief that “the 21st century is the century of Islam” and his plan to train as an imam in Russia. For now, the party’s local chapter has insisted that he’s not being pushed out for what they consider a “personal decision.” Still, its regional leader, Andreas Kalbitz, restated the party’s view that Islam “poses a great threat to the state, to our society and our values.”

Wagner has already stepped down from two party posts and expects further headwind from members who feel uncomfortable with a Muslim convert in their midst. Already, Wagner feels he’s part of something bigger — “my Ummah” as he calls it — the worldwide community of 1.8 billion Muslims.

“I don’t have to prove myself to anyone,” he said. “I’m just going my way.”

Germany’s Social Democrat plan cutoff date for new members

January 24, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s Social Democrats plan to establish a cutoff date after which new members won’t be able to participate in a crucial upcoming vote on whether to join a new government, party officials said Wednesday.

The move reflect growing annoyance among the party leadership about efforts by its youth wing to recruit new, short-term members in a bid to scuttle a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Union bloc.

The Young Socialists and the left wing of the party launched the campaign Monday offering two months’ membership for 10 euros ($12.25) and expressly urged new recruits to oppose a possible renewal of the “grand coalition.”

The party registered 1,700 news members within the first day of the membership drive, according to German news agency dpa. Deputy Social Democratic leader Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel slammed the campaign Wednesday, saying “whoever lets it be known that he’s transferring 10 euros and then will leave the party has no interest in social democracy.”

“A short-term membership with the goal to influence our vote is contrary to our principles,” he told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland news group. The Social Democrats have been in a coalition with Merkel’s bloc since 2013. But after taking a beating in September’s election, many in the party have argued they would be better off in opposition focusing on core issues most important to their base.

Party leader Martin Schulz and other top Social Democrats have urged going ahead with a new coalition, however, arguing being in government power gives them better opportunities to pass legislation important to their voters.

Schulz’s side narrowly won a vote Sunday to start coalition negotiations with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union. Formal talks are set to get underway Friday.

Once an agreement is reached, however, It will be submitted to a ballot of the more-than 440,000-strong membership of the Social Democrats for approval or rejection. Party member Hilde Mattheis defended the campaign for new members Wednesday, saying on Deutschlandfunk radio that anyone should be allowed to join and nobody could say how new members would vote.

Still, the party told dpa they planned to establish early next week a cut-off date for when new members could take part in the vote. The party’s secretary-general, Lars Klingbeil, told public broadcaster rbb-Inforadio on Wednesday that he welcomed new members but that encouraging people to join only for the purpose of voting against a coalition deal devalued what Social Democratic membership meant.

Tag Cloud