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Merkel ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer urges new era in German politics

The battle to be the next leader of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats is heating up. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the candidate considered closest to the chancellor personally and politically, has now made her case. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman many consider the natural successor to Angela Merkel both in leadership style and political agenda, has set out why she should be the next head of Germany's embattled conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Wednesday's press conference in Berlin was a home game for the CDU general secretary, who staged it in the office representing Saarland, the small southwestern state she governed from 2011 to 2018. The CDU's state party had just unanimously nominated her to lead the national party, and potentially be its chancellor candidate in the next election, which is scheduled for 2021, but could easily come sooner. Kramp-Karrenbauer addressed her most obvious problem — the curse and blessing of being Merkel's unofficial favorite — first by highlighting her connections to the chancellor, and then by insisting she has something new to offer. "This is the end of an era with which I associate many personal relations and personal experiences," she said, before hastily making clear that she would not be staying in the chancellor's shadow. "But that era is over, and such an era can neither simply be continued or be reversed," she said. "The decisive question is what you do with what you have inherited that is new and better." Reawakening the CDU She also emphasized her recent "listening tour" of the party's grassroots organizations, and reported that the members were full of "pride, frustration, concern and uncertainty" — all of which were understandable feelings, given the CDU's poor election result in the state of Hesse and new opinion polls that suggest that the center-right party, and pragmatic centrist politics in general, are in slow decline. The CDU's dilemma is that it is not clear which way it should turn to retrieve those lost voters. Though the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has definitely benefited from Merkel's perceived failure to control migration, recent state election results also show that the left-wing environmentalist Green party is also drawing away voters. Kramp-Karrenbauer's solution appears to emphasize the CDU's reputation for "responsibility" — a word that she mentioned a lot, and which is also perhaps her strongest card, given that she has more government experience than either of her two main opponents: Friedrich Merz, a financial manager who has spent the past nine years out of politics, and Jens Spahn, the 38-year-old health minister with a weakness for populist rhetoric. Her other tactic to win over the divided electorate was to insist on the CDU's centrist message. She warned against a divisive campaign, expressed the hope that both Merz and Spahn would be part of the leadership even if they didn't win, and insisted that the CDU "wants to remain a party that values the binding above the divisive." Perennial migration problem Kramp-Karrenbauer also used her 20-minute speech to address the worry that has most divided the CDU over the past few years: Merkel's decision in September 2015 to open the border with Austria for a group of refugees, and the political fallout that came with it. "It's not issue No. 1, but it's there as an issue, and there's no point not talking about it," Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters. "But if you think you can have the discussion with the idea that you can reverse what happened in 2015, we have to be honest ... and say: What happened in 2015 is reality, it's a fact. The second point is, and we have to make this very clear, is that very early after 2015, we worked to make sure that what happened in 2015 would not happen again, something I saw and helped work towards as state premier." This was a different tone than the one set out by Spahn, who last week called migration "the white elephant in the room" in a guest article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "This debate is neither finished nor resolved" for many people, he wrote, adding that 2015 had left the impression that the state had lost control, images that "won't leave people's heads so easily." Both Spahn and Merz have called for the party to return to its "core values" of security and rule of law. Kramp-Karrenbauer, meanwhile, emphasized international solutions: The trust in security, she said, "cannot be a question that only begins in a national context." "We in Germany live in an open Europe, we live in a Schengen Area, and it is our task to decide how this Schengen Area can be completed," she added. "How can it create internal safety, guarantee internal freedom, but organize external security? The question of how to protect ourselves from criminals is not one we can answer in Germany alone." There is about a month to go before roughly 1,000 CDU delegates elect their next leader at a party conference in Hamburg.

The battle to be the next leader of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats is heating up. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the candidate considered closest to the chancellor personally and politically, has now made her case. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman many consider the natural successor to Angela Merkel both in leadership style and political agenda, has set out why she should be the next ... Read More »

Angela Merkel braces for second election blow in Hesse

After barely finding time to brush themselves off after suffering huge losses in Bavaria, Germany's governing coalition is preparing for another setback. Hesse's state election could have huge repercussions for Merkel. Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be," boomed the 1950s favorite at the concert hall in the central city of Fulda on Thursday. Given the state of Germany's federal government, the choice of soundtrack at the conservative CDU campaign event seemed rather apt — not least of all due to the appearance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose fate may well lie in the hands of voters in the state of Hesse. For the second time in two weeks, the German government is bracing for a yet another backlash at elections in Hesse, home to Germany's financial hub, Frankfurt, and conservative stronghold for the past 20 years. With record-low unemployment and a booming economy, it's easy to wonder what the fuss is all about. But this is no ordinary state election. As the Bavaria state election proved just two weeks ago: "It's not the economy, stupid!" Merkel's conservatives in Hesse have plummeted to just 26 percent in opinion polls — down 12 percent on the last state election there in 2013. Not only would a realization of the unforgiving figures once again bring the chancellor's credibility as conservative party leader into question, but her close ally Volker Bouffier also stands to lose his position as Hesse's state premier. Hesse state premier still 'optimistic' While the huge losses for the Bavarian conservatives two weeks ago could be soothed at least by Merkel knowing that the months of criticism from her Bavarian brothers in arms had been to their detriment — this time she will have nowhere to hide when the blame game begins. Tacked on to the popular dissatisfaction with Germany's governing coalition after months of infighting over policy as well as personnel, losses of voters, as well as the state premiership, could well be the nail in the coffin for Merkel's already weakened government. But Hesse State Premier Bouffier isn't ready to point the finger in Merkel's direction just yet. "I'm optimistic for Sunday's result," Bouffier told DW after his final campaign event with Merkel in Fulda. "But federal politics has certainly overshadowed local state politics in this election." Merkel: 'Not a mini federal election' This, too, was something Merkel was keen to avoid. "Not every regional election can be stylized into a mini federal election," she told local German broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk earlier this week. "That's wrong. There's a lot at stake for the people of Hesse." "Politics in each German state affects how Germany presents itself," the chancellor added on Thursday, reiterating her call for voters to cast their ballots on the basis of local politics and not just federal issues. But much to the dismay of the chancellor, federal politics will have a huge impact on Sunday's election result in Hesse, and will likely reflect the national trend. Political pastures new Thousands of voters are leaving Germany's "big-tent" parties for pastures new — largely to the Green party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). "I've had enough of it," one local told DW in Fulda. "I was a CDU voter for a long time. But the neverending debate on migration, and then the diesel scandal, and the lack of unity in the coalition — it's making me rethink my vote on Sunday." To where? "The Greens," he replied. They know what they stand for." Both in Hesse and at the national level, the German Green party has enjoyed a huge surge in voter support in recent months. "The Greens are certainly profiting from the fact that the CDU/CSU and SPD can't paint a good picture of themselves. They're too concerned with personnel debates," Hesse's Green party lead candidate and incumbent State Economy Minister Tarek Al-Wazir told DW. Read more: Hesse's Green party candidate could spell trouble for Merkel Should the Greens, who are currently in a coalition with the CDU in Hesse, indeed surpass the conservatives on Sunday, the CDU could even see itself left out in the cold, with the Greens possibly opting for a leftist red-red-green coalition with the SPD and Left party. And that's despite the fact that the CDU/Green coalition is faring well in Hesse. Far-right AfD to complete the set The Green party isn't the only direction disenchanted voters are heading. The AfD — coincidentally founded in Hesse as a euroskeptic party back in 2013 — looks set on Sunday to enter Hesse's state parliament for the first time and complete the set with local MPs in all 16 German states. Fulda local Stefan Vogel was a longtime CDU voter and party member until 2003. Earlier this year, he found his "alternative" after joining the far-right AfD. "I'm disappointed with Merkel. She's power-obsessed," he told DW. "I don't support the euro, or legislation that was pushed through like equal marriage. She practically started the migration crisis. Instead I've found a democratic alternative: the AfD." The AfD is currently polling at fourth position in Hesse with 13 percent. But with all other parties in Hesse ruling out a coalition with the far-right party, any significantly bigger result on Sunday would make building a new coalition even more difficult — regardless of who wins the mandate to do so. But even if Merkel's conservatives manage to avoid the realization of their dismal polling figures on Sunday — her governing coalition at the federal level won't be out of the woods just yet. Time ticking for loveless coalition Also set to suffer huge losses are Hesse's Social Democrats who are currently polling neck-and-neck with the Greens at 20 to 22 percent. Yet another blow to Germany's oldest political party would only strengthen calls for the SPD to break away from the government, barely half a year since the coalition was formed — albeit with a large component of the SPD kicking and screaming as their leadership signed the dotted line in March. It was never meant to be. The SPD's departure would not only leave the German government in tatters, but also Merkel's credibility to hold the coalition together, and a question mark over the future of Germany's government. But that's not ours to see. Que sera sera.

After barely finding time to brush themselves off after suffering huge losses in Bavaria, Germany’s governing coalition is preparing for another setback. Hesse’s state election could have huge repercussions for Merkel. Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be,” boomed the 1950s favorite at the concert hall in the central city of Fulda on Thursday. Given the state of Germany’s ... Read More »

Free-press conflict overshadows Merkel meeting Turkey’s Erdogan

Angela Merkel says she raised human-rights issues with Recep Tayyip Erdogan — an issue where they can only agree to disagree. The Turkish president's visit to Berlin was met with protests from public and press alike. The elephant in the room when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday was the fundmantal disagreement between their countries on human rights. Germany has been very critical of Ankara on this score, while Erdogan has insisted that Berlin do more on German soil to go after detractors he claims are terrorists. At their post-meeting press conference, Merkel argued that the important thing was that the two sides were talking. "I consider the visit very important because when there are differences, a personal meeting is vital to resolve them," Merkel said. Ties with Germany deteriorated following a failed coup attempt in Turkey two years ago that prompted Ankara to react with draconian measures, including jailing journalists, soldiers and public servants, among them several German citizens. Relations reached a low point last year when Erdogan comparing the current government to the Nazi regime. Friday's meeting was seen as a chance to put that level of hostility to rest. "I have called for these cases to be resolved as quickly as possible," Merkel said, referring to the jailed Germans. Erdogan glossed over the criticism, insisting that the fundamental point was respect for the Turkish judiciary. As if to illustrate the depth of the conflict, the press conference was briefly disrupted by a protester wearing a T-shirt that read "freedom for journalists" in Turkish. As he was removed by security, the two leaders looked at each other and noticeably tensed up. The journalist was later named as Adil Yigit, a Turkish journalist who runs the Avrupa Postasi online news portal from Hamburg. An unhappy partnership Both Merkel and Erdogan seemed at pains to suppress any hints of personal acrimony, but there was no hiding that the two aren't close friends and that at present German-Turkish relations are dominated by necessity, not affinity. Merkel stressed the central role played by Turkey in restricting the flow of refugees, particularly from Syria to Europe — a hot-button issue for her own government at the moment. Merkel also stressed the special connection between the two countries based on the some 3.5 million people in Germany who are either Turkish citizens or have Turkish roots. Both leaders underscored the economic importance of the two countries for one another, with Erdogan keen to suggest the struggling Turkish economy was actually in robust health. Read more: How Erdogan fills a political gap for German-Turks Still, while Germany and Turkey undeniably need one another in a number of respects, they don't see eye to eye on basic democratic standards. Erdogan fails to understand why Germany isn't more active in extraditing leaders of Gulen and PKK movements he holds responsible for the failed coup against him in 2016. "If the tables were turned, I would hand over people Germany put on an extradition list," the Turkish president said. For her part, Merkel acknowledged that Germany is generally skeptical about democratic freedoms and the rule of law in Erdogan's Turkey. In the press conference, she diplomatically declined to comment on any particular extradition cases, especially that of a prominent Turkish journalist in exile in Germany. Exiled Turkish journalist absent from press conference A government-friendly Turkish newspaper, Yeni Asir, reported Friday that Turkey had already requested the extradition of the journalist Can Dundar in the run-up to Erdogan's visit, along with a "terror list" detailing 69 names of people wanted by Ankara. "It will only enhance the peace and security in both countries to do so," said Erdogan during the press conference. Dundar, former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, who has been living in exile in Germany for more than two years, was convicted in Turkey over an article about weapons supplied to Syria by Turkish intelligence. He is accused of spying, betrayal of state secrets and propaganda. A controversy erupted ahead of Friday's press conference, as reports emerged that the German government press office had accredited Dundar to attend the event — though without giving him the right to ask a question. In the end, after Erdogan reportedly threatened to call it off the press conference over Dundar's presence, the journalist said that he would not be take part. At the press conference, Merkel said that Dundar himself made the decision not to attend. Erdogan, meanwhile, described the journalist as an "agent who revealed state secrets to the public." Later on Friday, at a hastily called press gathering in the offices of investigative journalism organization Correctiv, Dundar confirmed Merkel's statement, underlining that he had not been asked to stay away. "If I had received any pressure not to go, then I definitely would have gone," he said. Dundar, who now edits the Correctiv magazine Özgürüz ("We are free"), also accused Erdogan of lying about him during the afternoon's press conference with Merkel. "Erdogan looked the whole world in the eyes and lied. I am not an agent, I am a journalist." "What he presented as state secrets were illegal weapons exports to foreign countries," Dundar went on. "Erdogan knows very well that our report was not a lie, and that what he did was a crime. There is no legally binding sentence against me at all — the sentence of five years and ten months was overturned by the highest Turkish court. The whole case is now being reconsidered." 'Fascist, dictator, terrorist!' Dundar also described Berlin as being in a "kind of state of emergency." "Demonstrators have been pushed out of the city center. There are snipers on the rooftops — in other words, Erdogan brought Turkey with him to Germany," the journalist said. As Friday afternoon wore on, thousands of Erdogan opponents congregated for various demonstrations in different parts of the German capital. At the largest event, entitled "Erdogan not welcome," protestors held up placards of the Turkish president's likeness sporting a Hitler moustache and chanted, "Erdogan is a fascist, a dictator, a terrorist." Some members of the crowd held up photos of Sehit Namirin, a young Kurdish man who set himself on fire earlier in the week in the city of Ingolstadt, taking his own life to protest Erdogan's visit. Many of the demonstrators voiced support for Turkey's large Kurdish minority, while others focused their criticism on Erdogan's treatment of journalists and political dissidents and Germany's millions in weapons exports to Turkey. They also skewered the honors, including a full military reception, Erdogan has received in Berlin. "It's a scandal that this country has rolled out the red carpet for a dictator," said one of the speakers at the "Erdogan not welcome" demo. Cordoned off by the sort of security normally reserved for the leaders of the United States or Russia, Erdogan likely may not have registered the protests as all. While his detractors were taking to the streets, he was readying himself for an official state banquet, which Merkel and other prominent political leaders have declined to attend.

Angela Merkel says she raised human-rights issues with Recep Tayyip Erdogan — an issue where they can only agree to disagree. The Turkish president’s visit to Berlin was met with protests from public and press alike. The elephant in the room when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday was the fundmantal disagreement ... Read More »

Merkel taps possible successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as next CDU secretary general

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has nominated Saarland state Premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to be the CDU's next secretary general. She will take over from Peter Tauber, who is stepping down due to health reasons. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, premier of the small western German state of Saarland, was nominated on Monday to take over as secretary general of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). Kramp-Karrenbauer, one of Merkel's closest allies, is respected in the CDU for helping the party win Saarland's state election last year and played a key role in coalition talks between the conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD). Announcing the decision at a press conference, Merkel said the the party's board accepted Kramp-Karrenbauer's nomination with "strong support," adding that the state premier could "play a stronger role on the national level." Kramp-Karrenbauer announced that by accepting the nomination, she would be stepping down as Saarland's state premier. "We're experiencing one oft he most difficult political phases in Germany's (postwar) history. I believe that one shouldn't only talk about responsibility in such times, but should also be prepared to be personally engaged," Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement. According to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Merkel and Kramp-Karrenbauer agreed she would take over the post months ago once it became clear that the current secretary general would not continue. The outgoing CDU secretary general, 43-year-old Peter Tauber, is stepping down from his post following a serious illness, party sources said on Sunday. In a blog post headlined "Why I'm making way for a new general secretary" — deliberately using the female form of the word — he announced his departure from the post on Monday, Tauber urged for the CDU to become "younger, more female and more diverse." "There are not enough young people, far too few women, and not enough Germans with an immigration background who are involved in our ranks," he wrote. Rumored Merkel successor Kramp-Karrenbauer's nomination is significant as the center-right party starts to look for someone who will lead the party and possibly Germany after Merkel. Saarland's 55-year-old premier has led two successive state coalition governments with the CDU and the center-left SPD. Before becoming CDU party head and chancellor, Merkel was also the CDU's secretary general. Read more: Germany's Angela Merkel says she's still in control, despite coalition concessions to SPD Merkel's conservative CDU and its Bavarian sister-party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) struck a deal with the SPD to form another grand coalition government that has held power in Germany since 2013. It's the first time Kramp-Karrenbauer, also referred to as "AKK," will have played a role on the national political stage. The move could prove risky, however, as Kramp-Karrenbauer isn't a member of parliament, and could put her in conflict with the CDU's powerful parliamentary group, reported Süddeutsche Zeitung. At a party congress in Berlin on February 26, CDU delegates will vote on the coalition deal, as well as decide the party's next secretary general. Read more: New members in Germany's SPD may play pivotal role in coalition deal's success The coalition deal's final fate, however, rests with the SPD's 464,000 party members who will start voting on the deal via a postal ballot on Tuesday. The results will be announced on March 4. Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has nominated Saarland state Premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to be the CDU’s next secretary general. She will take over from Peter Tauber, who is stepping down due to health reasons. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, premier of the small western German state of Saarland, was nominated on Monday to take over as secretary general of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats ... Read More »

SPD’s Martin Schulz announces preliminary German coalition talks

Angela Merkel's CDU could be heading into another grand coalition government with the center-left SPD. Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz said that the party would start exploratory talks — but with some options. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has decided to open preliminary talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to form another grand coalition — though the center-left party was careful to underline that it wanted to keep open the possibility of a softer "cooperative coalition," while the CDU is mainly interested in forming a grand coalition. The decision was announced at SPD headquarters in Berlin on Friday by leader Martin Schulz after a meeting of the party's 45-member leadership committee. "We will go into the talks openly and constructively," Schulz said in a press conference, before adding that the talks would begin at the start of January. The SPD has tentatively pencilled in a party congress on January 14, when it will aim to vote on the results of the exploratory talks. Schulz said that he would meet Angela Merkel, along with other CDU and SPD leaders, before Christmas to discuss the form the talks would take. "The CDU is taking it seriously. We are also taking it seriously," Schulz said, though he was cautiously added that "there are different models of how a stable government can be formed." Merkel for her part welcomed the move, saying she had "great respect" for the SPD's decision. The announcement represents something of a climb-down for Schulz, who announced that the SPD would go into opposition in the immediate aftermath of a historically bad election result on September 24. But the CDU's subsequent failure to form a "Jamaica" coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) has left Germany at an unprecedented impasse, and the SPD voted last week to enter new talks. But many in the SPD are wary about entering into another alliance with Merkel, with pundits blaming the party's slump in the polls on its failure to distinguish itself from the CDU during the last four years. The consensus for many inside and outside the party was that the SPD needed some time in opposition to reassess its policies and win back credibility in its base. For that reason, the Social Democrats want to make sure that any preliminary coalition talks keep various options open. So how could it pan out? 'GroKo' - Grand coalition This currently seems like the mostly likely option, though in the current fluctuating situation that is no certainty. Some 68 percent of SPD supporters are in favor of a new grand coalition, according to a poll by public broadcaster ARD, though the "Juso" SPD youth wing and the left of the party are against it. A grand coalition would also be the CDU's preference, since it would ensure a stable working majority in the Bundestag — though it would mean sharing the cabinet ministries with the SPD. But this would also carry risks. Fatigue at the grand coalition's relentlessly centrist approach was perceived as one reason why both parties lost ground in September's election (the CDU lost 9 percentage points, while the SPD lost 5), and a continuation of the same policies — under Merkel's passive management style — could see Germany's biggest parties lose even more favor. Another problem is that this iteration of the grand coalition will be functioning on a much slimmer majority. Read more: Opinion: Germany, a paralyzed nation 'KoKo' - Cooperative coalition The left wing of the SPD is less keen on allying with Merkel, and suggested a kind of "open relationship" with the CDU. The SPD would get to keep a few ministries, and would agree a foreshortened coalition contract that would cover only basic issues — such as the budget and Europe policy. Other issues would remain open, and would allow both parties to try to build parliamentary majorities on a range of issues. The CDU is against the idea. CDU minority government In this scenario, which some in the SPD actually prefer, the CDU would take all the cabinet ministries and form a government on its own, with a "toleration" agreement with the SPD that would ensure agreement on basic issues like the budget, but would leave Merkel to try to seek majorities however she can from one issue to the next.

Angela Merkel’s CDU could be heading into another grand coalition government with the center-left SPD. Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz said that the party would start exploratory talks — but with some options. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has decided to open preliminary talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to form another grand coalition — though ... Read More »

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron set eurozone reform plan deadline

Germany's Angela Merkel has said she wants to establish a joint proposal with France on reforms to the eurozone by next March. The French president has been pushing for a shared eurozone budget and governance structure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that she wants to find "a common position" with French President Emmanuel Macron, on how to reform the eurozone by next March. "We will find a common solution, because it is crucial for Europe," Merkel told reports at the end a two-day EU leaders' summit in Brussels. "The will is there, that's the deciding factor." Macron said he hoped to make progress with Germany on a reform package for the single currency and that all 19 eurozone members would agree to a "roadmap" by June. Read more: Macron: more Europe, please Macron also expressed his optimism that the two nations would find a "convergence" in their plans. "Our aim is to have an agreement in March because at that stage a political step will have been completed in Germany and we will have the capacity to construct together much more clearly on these issues," said the French President. What is Macron's vision for the eurozone? The French president's plans to shore up the eurozone through: The creation of an EU finance minister role. That minister would be responsible for a joint eurozone buidget The minister would also lead a new agency tasked with issuing eurozone bonds, helping to finance public investment and providing a cushion against a future economic shocks. Germany hesitant... until now? Berlin has so far beenreluctant to subscribe to Macron's plans. The notion of pooling financial resources is viewed by many in the Bundestag as form of "transfer union" among the 19 eurozone states, which would see Germany pay in more than it gets out. The federal government is also reluctant to share risks with their more indebted eurozone partners, such as France, Italy and Greece. Read more: Opinion: Angela Merkel is still Angela Merkel in the EU However, Merkel, who herself has expressed reservations over Macron's vision, said she was optimistic that a joint plan would be agreed. When it comes to major European issues, there have always been "struggles between Germany and France, where at the beginning there are differences... but in the end there is common ground," the chancellor said. "I'm sure that will the case here, too."

Germany’s Angela Merkel has said she wants to establish a joint proposal with France on reforms to the eurozone by next March. The French president has been pushing for a shared eurozone budget and governance structure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that she wants to find “a common position” with French President Emmanuel Macron, on how to reform ... Read More »

SPD’s Martin Schulz defends his ‘United States of Europe’

Leader of Germany's Social Democrats Martin Schulz has called for a "United States of Europe" by 2025. But what did he mean? And where does that lead the SPD? The former European Parliament president told DW more. "Daydreamer," "Europe radical," "the best way to destroy the EU:" these were just some of the comments thrown at Social Democrats leader Martin Schulz by media and opposition politicians after proposing the establishment of the "United States of Europe" at the SPD's party conference on Thursday. Only eight years from now, Schulz's envisioned treaty would also see member states who don't agree politely asked to leave Brussels. Returning to the stage for day two on Friday, the former European Parliament president defended his proposal, calling on the 600 present delegates to "once again develop a passion for Europe." "Economic, cultural, social and political integration: The best protection against fascism, war and anti-Democrats," he added, prompting rapturous applause across the conference hall. If the overwhelming response was anything to go by, the Social Democrats seem largely united on the issue — unlike the evident division a day earlier over whether they should enter exploratory talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives. Read more: SPD open to grand coalition talks, re-elects Schulz as party chair How about a united SPD? In an interview with DW at Friday's party conference, Schulz brushed off accusations of division in the SPD. "Our proposals tabled yesterday, unanimously adopted by the bureau of the party, for the opening of negotiations — first of all about content, about improving the domestic situation in Germany and the situation in the European Union — got an overwhelming majority, around 90 percent. That opens a path for open-ended negotiations, for sure," Schulz said. With the SPD's top names due to meet with Merkel and her conservatives on Wednesday, Europe now looks to be one of the Social Democrat's key issues at the table. So far, however, Merkel's conservatives have been reluctant to show any desire in supporting the proposals for EU reform, suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron — including an EU finance minister. "Discussing — especially after Brexit — how the remaining 27 EU states can improve the basis of the cooperation that's the Lisbon Treaty, which is visibly not sufficient for solving a lot of problems we have internally, and international relations. That's what I mean with the United States of Europe," Schulz told DW. "It wouldn't be a kind of United States of America on European soil." Failing Social Democrats in EU But not everyone's entirely convinced. Michelle Rauschkolb, who sits on the national board of Jusos — the SPD youth wing — told DW that although she supports Schulz's call for closer cooperation between EU member states, the SPD should be concentrating right now on redefining its image after the party's disastrous show in September's elections, where they walked away with just 20.5 percent of the vote. At the same time, she added that moving Europe into the foreground of the SPD's agenda could be useful in pulling back voters, especially among Germany's youth. "We've seen the demise of Social Democrats across Europe, so it's important for us, as Germany's Social Democrats to encourage a better, closer Europe. It's our job to push on improving social issues in Europe." Echoing Schulz's sentiments over the SPD's unity, however, was Member of the European Parliament and Chairman of the SPD in the EU, Jens Geier. "The party isn't divided," he told DW against a backdrop of postcards and free drawstring bags for party conferencegoers, emblazoned with the words: "We are Europe, baby!" "Everyone is entitled to a different opinion. And these exploratory talks with Merkel's conservatives sets nothing in stone about a grand coalition," Geier said, adding that Europe would play an important role in any discussions. Read more: What you need to know about another Angela Merkel-led grand coalition in Germany "The fact alone that the topic of Europe has been put so high upon the agenda is a new quality for the SPD," he said, referring to the party's ongoing attempts to redefine itself. "Look at all the proposals put forward for EU reforms from French President Macron. And what have we heard from the conservatives? 'No'." With Macron and Schulz's political relationship blossoming — the French president even encouraged Schulz last week to form a grand coalition with Merkel — Geier was quick to add: "Macron's not one of us." "We don't have to sign everything he says, but he's the only president in the EU actively calling for reform and more cooperation right now. So the least we can do is be open to talks with France," Geier said. Read more: European allies urge Martin Schulz to form a government But before the Social Democrats get anywhere near talks with their French neighbors, first come Wednesday's talks, a little closer to home with Merkel's conservatives. Schulz, however, is in no rush. "We have no need to speed up," he told DW. "Especially considering the fact that the so-called 'Jamaica' allies crashed completely with negotiations. They took two months to disagree." Bearing the leisurely pace in mind, while there might be no "United States of Europe" by 2025, Germany might, if it's lucky, at least have a new government.

Leader of Germany’s Social Democrats Martin Schulz has called for a “United States of Europe” by 2025. But what did he mean? And where does that lead the SPD? The former European Parliament president told DW more. “Daydreamer,” “Europe radical,” “the best way to destroy the EU:” these were just some of the comments thrown at Social Democrats leader Martin ... Read More »

Refugee centers in Germany suffer near daily attacks

Far-right attacks on refugee homes in Germany still happen nearly every day, statistics show. Though the total number of attacks is down, there are still more incidents than before the 2015 refugee crisis. Fresh data from Germany's Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) obtained by German daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung show that there have been 211 attacks on refugee homes throughout Germany in the first nine months of the year, plus an additional 15 incidents up to October 23. Read more: 1.6 million people seek humanitarian protection in Germany The figure is down from nearly 900 attacks in the first nine months of 2016, but still higher than in 2014, a year before Germany took in more than 1 million refugees, more than any other country in Europe. Merkel's refugee policy polarizes It was a contentious move by Chancellor Angela Merkel that triggered protests in Germany, but also earned her praise abroad and at home. Read more: Two years since Germany opened its borders to refugees - a chronology According to the newspaper, the BKA stresses that the number of attacks is constant and amounts to around 70 attacks per quarter. Most of the attacks had a far-right background, with offenses ranging from property damage to violent attacks, arson and even attacks using explosives. At the height of the refugee emergency in 2015, attacks on detention centers peaked at 1,031 for the full year.

Far-right attacks on refugee homes in Germany still happen nearly every day, statistics show. Though the total number of attacks is down, there are still more incidents than before the 2015 refugee crisis. Fresh data from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Agency (BKA) obtained by German daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung show that there have been 211 attacks on refugee homes throughout ... Read More »

New German parliament convenes for first time

Germany's Bundestag has chosen outgoing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble to be its parliamentary president, or speaker. Accepting the post, Schäuble stressed the need to maintain mutual "respect" amidst heated debates. Germany's new parliament held its first session since September 24 elections in Berlin on Tuesday, with one of its first acts being to choose Wolfgang Schäuble from Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU) as the president or speaker. The choice of Schäuble was widely expected and he was elected by a wide majority of 501 votes in his favor. There were 173 lawmakers who voted against his appointment and 30 abstained. The president of the Bundestag, who is responsible for maintaining parliamentary order and, if necessary, censuring unruly MPs, is usually a member of the largest parliamentary party. In his acceptance speech, the 75-year-old political veteran urged parliamentarians not to lose a sense of fairness and respect. A number of his remarks could be read as warnings to the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who had promised after the national election on September 24 to "hound" the established parties. "Over the past months, our country has heard expressions of contempt and humiliation. They have no place in a civilized society based on cooperation," he said, adding: "We shouldn't get into fistfights, even verbal ones." In an echo of the AfD's vow to "take back our country and people" Schäuble said: "No one alone represents the people." He also said that, after 45 years of experience as a parliamentarian, he had learned that "commotion and a feeling of crisis" were "not really new" in German politics, adding that he felt "a sense of calm at the disputes that we will and must have in the party." Read more: Germany's new Bundestag: Who is who in parliament Controversial candidate But despite admonitions that deputies should work together, conflict was not long in coming. The AfD's first motion, which concerned who was to speak first in the parliamentary session, was rejected by the other parties. And the same fate awaited their nominee, Albrecht Glaser, 75, for one of the six parliamentary vice presidents. Glaser fell far short of the majority needed for election in three separate votes. Glaser has courted controversy by classifying Islam as a political ideology and asserting that Muslims had forfeited their right to freedom of religion, as Islam did not respect that freedom. The center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left Party have said Glaser is not suited to serve as one of Schäuble's deputies. Before the parliamentary vote, the leader of the SPD parliamentary party, Andrea Nahles told German public broadcaster ZDF that Glaser would not adequately uphold the values of Germany's Basic Law. The AfD insists that Glaser's remarks do conform to it. Bundestag vice presidents chair sessions, set the agenda and call lawmakers to order where necessary. Normally each party in parliament is allowed to name at least one vice president. The vice presidents of the other parties were elected without incident. Who makes up the new Bundestag? The opposition to Glaser's nomination is a first taste of the clashes likely to occur as the AfD tries pushing its widely anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-euro agenda in the parliament. The AfD will have the opportunity to name an alternative candidate for confirmation in a later Bundestag session. Read more: The far-right AfD in the Bundestag: What you need to know Germany's biggest ever parliament The parliament is meeting even though Germany currently has no elected government, with election winner Angela Merkel still engaged in difficult talks with prospective coalition partners the FDP and the Greens. If the coalition — called a "Jamaica" coalition in Germany because the party colors are those of the Jamaican flag — is created, it would be the first such ruling alliance at national level in German history. Read more: Opinion: Angela Merkel's Jamaica coalition is right for Germany The previous government will run the country in a caretaker capacity until a decision on the possible coalition is reached, which could stretch into early 2018. If negotiations are not successful, Merkel will have the choice of forming a minority government, persuading a previously unwilling SPD to reenter a coalition with the conservatives or calling new elections, none of which are seen by analysts as likely options. Merkel has ruled out forming any alliance with the Left party or the AfD. The new parliament is the world's biggest democratic lower house of parliament for a single country, with 709 members compared with 631 in the previous legislative assembly. It also brings together six parliamentary parties, in this case ranging from far-left to far-right, for the first time since 1957. Read more: Germany's political parties CDU, CSU, SPD, AfD, FDP, Left party, Greens - what you need to know

Germany’s Bundestag has chosen outgoing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble to be its parliamentary president, or speaker. Accepting the post, Schäuble stressed the need to maintain mutual “respect” amidst heated debates. Germany’s new parliament held its first session since September 24 elections in Berlin on Tuesday, with one of its first acts being to choose Wolfgang Schäuble from Angela Merkel’s Christian ... Read More »

EU leaders disagree on Brexit progress at summit

Theresa May has not left Brussels empty-handed, but at the end of a two-day EU summit, the bloc still lacks "all the details we need." EU leaders remained at odds on some internal reforms, as well. The EU summit wrapped up Friday evening on a warmer, if still uncertain, note about the state of negotiations between the United Kingdom and the 27 remaining member nations. The bloc agreed to take up internal discussions on the future of a UK-EU relationship, though it pushed talks between the divorcing partners until after December, at the earliest. EU leaders also discussed the bloc's priorities beyond Brexit. Read more: Opinion: Trouble brewing in every corner of Europe Some progress, not enough On the second day of the two-day summit, European Council President Donald Tusk said that the so-called EU-27 had agreed to start preparatory talks between the remaining EU member states on a possible future relationship with Britain. He cast aside rumors that Brexit negotiations had come to a standstill, while admitting that work was still needed in key areas. "My impression is that reports of the deadlock between the European Union and the UK have been exaggerated, and while progress has not been sufficient, it does not mean there is no progress at all," Tusk said. The EU says that "sufficient progress" needs to be made in three key areas — citizens' rights, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and a financial settlement — before talks with Britain can move into phrase two and discuss the post-Brexit economic relationship. "We have some details, but we do not have all the details we need," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on Friday. British Prime Minister Theresa May met Friday morning with European Council President Donald Tusk and later with other EU leaders before leaving the remaining 27 leaders to discuss internal Brexit matters. May, who faces domestic political devisions, has been pushing for talks on the UK's future relationship with the EU. In a dinner speech on Thursday evening, she issued an impassioned plea for negotiations to turn to the future relationship. Before departing, May told reporters she had pledged that Britain would honor its commitments to the EU on Brexit and that other countries would not lose out in the current budget plan. However, she declined to say whether she had offered EU leaders a higher financial settlement, instead repeating that the divorce bill's total must wait. "The full and final settlement will come as part of the final agreement that we're getting in relation to the future partnership," May said. According to DW's Georg Matthes, May appeared at least a little encouraged by the Brussels proceedings as she headed back to London Friday morning. Opinions from the 27 In a Friday press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her opinion on May's recent announced that the UK would institute a two-year transition period after the March 2019 exit date, calling it an "interesting idea," but saying it could only be addressed later on. The chancellor confirmed that the leaders hoped they could decide to take up Phase 2 of Brexit talks in December, but that this depended on how Britain moved on the financial settlement with the EU. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen appeared to share Merkel's careful optimism in comments he made on Friday. "We need [May] and the British negotiators to move this into the negotiation room. And hopefully we will soon have made sufficient progress that we can continue into the next phase. And I think that's what we all hope for," Rasmussen told journalists including DW's EU correspondent Georg Matthes. Read more: Brexit Diaries 14: Boris Johnson rocks the boat But not all European heads headed home with the same shared Merkel's cautiously optimistic assessment. French President Emmanuel Macron said that "there is a lot of work left to do" to lay out Britain's departure from the EU. "We have not gone even halfway down the road," he said. Tax, Iran and Turkey EU leaders also spent time discussing other critical issues for the bloc including tax, security and migration policy. Macron has made a strong push to reform the bloc. One of his more contested proposals is to make giant tech companies such as Google and Facebook pay taxes where they make profits so as to avoid tax havens. However, he received pushback from smaller EU states such as Ireland and Luxembourg, which benefit from the companies' presence in their countries, and who argued that the issue should be approached globally. Also discussed was US President Donald Trump's opposition to the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran. The EU leaders reached unanimous agreement to support the accord as a means of bolstering global peace and allowing renewed trade with Iran, a long-time trading partner of European countries. The leaders also agreed on wanting to maintain "full control" of the EU's exterior borders in the face of global migration and agreed on the need to oversee migration routes, fight human trafficking and undertake more deportations. The EU states' heads also agreed to maintain the migration deal with Turkey that has been in place since spring 2016. At the same time, the group examined whether and how to cut pre-accession finances to the neighbor nation over alleged human rights abuses and aggressive rhetoric towards Europe.

Theresa May has not left Brussels empty-handed, but at the end of a two-day EU summit, the bloc still lacks “all the details we need.” EU leaders remained at odds on some internal reforms, as well. The EU summit wrapped up Friday evening on a warmer, if still uncertain, note about the state of negotiations between the United Kingdom and ... Read More »

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