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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 »

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 »

Martin Schulz defends SPD ahead of coalition talks with CDU/CSU

The SPD leader has denied that his party has been "sulking" since its historically bad election result. The SPD, CDU and CSU are to meet on Wednesday for preliminary talks over a renewal of their "grand coalition." Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz lashed out on Saturday against criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), days before the three parties are set to start preliminary talks over a new coalition government. "We have not been sulking … you have made a mess of everything," he said during his final speech at an SPD party convention in Berlin. The head of the CSU's parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Alexander Dobrindt, said on Thursday the SPD had been "sulking" ever since its historically low vote share — 20.5 percent — in the September national elections. Dobrindt had also accused Schulz — a former President of the European Parliament — of being a "European radical" after Schulz told SPD delegates he wanted the EU to become a "United States of Europe" by 2025. "Yes, Mr. Dobrindt. It's not just me, but my entire party. We are all radical pro-Europeans," Schulz said. Read more: SPD's Martin Schulz defends his 'United States of Europe' SPD will decide its own future Schulz also said the SPD had accepted responsibility for maintaining Germany's political stability after SPD delegates voted in favor of entering preliminary coalition talks with the CDU/CSU. "It frustrates me that others have brought this country into an impasse (…) and we — not for the first time in history — now have to take on this national responsibility," he said. Preliminary talks over a three-way government between the CDU/CSU, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party fell apart in November after the FDP left talks. Schulz said however that the SPD was ready to take on responsibility on its own terms: "How we take on this responsibility is up to us alone. We won't take any lectures from others." Read more: SPD open to grand coalition talks, re-elects Schulz as party chair Making peoples' lives better Senior officials from the SPD, CDU and CSU are to meet on Wednesday for preliminary coalition talks. If successful, SPD delegates will again need to give their approval for the three parties to start formal coalition negotiations. But divisions have emerged within the SPD in recent days on renewing the three-way "grand coalition:" Some including the party's youth wing have called for the SPD to enter the opposition and support a CDU/CSU minority government. Senior CDU figures have rejected that outcome. "If we want to strengthen Europe in this restless world, then we need a stable majority," said Volker Kauder, the head of the CDU in the Bundestag, on Saturday. Schulz said the SPD should focus on concrete political problems in upcoming talks, including old age poverty, social care and affordable housing. "The crux of the matter is how we are can make peoples' lives in this country better," he said. Read more: Opinion: Germany, a paralyzed nation Speculation about finance ministry Speculation is already rife as to who will occupy senior ministerial appointments in a new "grand coalition." The German weekly Der Spiegel reported Thursday that Germany's caretaker Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, had told senior SPD officials he could imagine himself as finance minister in a new three-way coalition. Gabriel, a former SPD leader, denied the report in an interview on Saturday with German national radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. "No one knows, what the next [government] will look like," he said. "What the Spiegel wrote is nonsense."

The SPD leader has denied that his party has been “sulking” since its historically bad election result. The SPD, CDU and CSU are to meet on Wednesday for preliminary talks over a renewal of their “grand coalition.” Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz lashed out on Saturday against criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its ... Read More »

Germany’s CDU/CSU want to review starting Syria deportations

German states led by parties in Angela Merkel's conservative Union have backed plans to begin deporting Syrians back to Syria starting in mid-2018. The proposal relates mainly to criminals and rejected asylum seekers. State interior ministers from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to restart Syrian deportations in mid-2018, according to a report by the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) newspaper group. The draft proposal from the CDU-led eastern state of Saxony is expected to be discussed at next week's conference of interior ministers in Leipzig in December. Ministers of different political parties representing all of Germany's federal states will be present. According to the RND, which has seen the document, the plan has the backing of all federal states run by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU. A spokesman for German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who will also attend the Leipzig meeting, said there was no way people would be sent back to Syria "today, tomorrow, or next week" because the security situation on the ground had not changed. Reassessing security in Syria A moratorium on sending Syrians back home, in place in Germany since 2012, expired in September this year. CDU/CSU lawmakers say they want to extend that deadline to June 30, 2018, after which time deportations could theoretically resume. That time frame has been rejected by interior ministers from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Instead, they want the halt on deportations to continue until at least the end of 2018. "The Union-led interior ministries' demand is cynical in view of the futile situation and ongoing death and destruction in Syria," Lower Saxony's Interior Minister Boris Pistorius of the SPD told RND. He described the initiative as a "questionable" attempt to court the right. Read more: Syrian refugees in Germany contemplate return home At the upcoming conference, Germany's state ministers will discuss whether the federal government should undertake a full re-evaluation of the Syria's security situation. A spokesman for De Maiziere said the minister was open to such a review. "How we proceed will depend on the outcome of the assessment," Saxon Interior Minister Markus Ulbig told the German Press Agency, adding that the plan aimed specifically to allow "perpetrators and people who have committed serious crimes to be sent back." A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office was skeptical: "There is still a long way to go before there is peace and a settlement to resolve the conflict in Syria," she said. The German Embassy in Damascus, which had played a central role in evalutating Syria's security situation, has been closed since 2012. As a result, the government has relied upon information from Germany's diplomatic missions in Ankara, Turkey and Beirut, Lebanon, when assessing conditions in Syria. Read more: The dark side of Germany's deportation policy There are currently around 650,000 Syrian refugees living in Germany. Chancellor Merkel has been under pressure to bring those numbers down following the arrival of more than a million migrants — mainly from Syria and Afghanistan — since 2015. The war in Syria has killed around 400,000 people and displaced millions since 2011. Rival military campaigns supported by the United States and Russia have helped drive the militant group, "Islamic State" (IS), from its last strongholds in the country. However, UN-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the conflict have yet to reach a breakthrough. President Bashar Assad is determined to stay in power, while the opposition demands he step down. Read more: Two years since Germany opened its borders to refugees Controversial Afghanistan decision In October 2016, Germany and Afghanistan reached a deal on repatriating failed asylum seekers, with the first deportation flights heading to Kabul last December. A total of 128 people, mostly young men, have been sent back since then. The relocations were briefly suspended after a truck bomb attack in Kabul in May killed 150 people and wounded 300 others. The flights resumed in September. The decision sparked protests, with critics arguing Germany should not deport Afghans while the Taliban continues to step-up its attacks against civilians and security officials. Rights group Amnesty International warned European governments last month that a surge of failed Afghan asylum seekers "forcibly" returned are at risk of torture, kidnapping and death. Any future decision in Germany to resume deporting Syrian citizens is likely to be met with similar objections.

German states led by parties in Angela Merkel’s conservative Union have backed plans to begin deporting Syrians back to Syria starting in mid-2018. The proposal relates mainly to criminals and rejected asylum seekers. State interior ministers from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to restart Syrian deportations in mid-2018, ... Read More »

German conservatives launch ‘constructive’ coalition talks

Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has begun talks on forging a three-way coalition. During the negotiations, all parties will have to find common ground on a slew of divisive issues, from immigration to climate policy. Exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) kicked off on Wednesday. "Today was a first, very constructive, good discussion that will of, course, be followed by more discussions," Peter Tauber, CDU general secretary, told reporters following a two-hour closed-door meeting. Party officials from the FDP and CSU were similarly upbeat about the talks, which aim to build Germany's first national three-party government. 'A good feeling' After failing to secure a clear majority in Germany's September elections, Merkel's conservatives are hoping to govern in an alliance with the liberal FDP and the left-leaning Greens. Tauber said he had a "good feeling" about a meeting with the Greens later in the day. The FDP and the Greens will then hold talks separately on Thursday, with over 50 people from all parties set to gather for their first joint sit-down on Friday. If this week's exploratory talks go well, the parties will move into formal coalition negotiations. The prospective alliance has been dubbed a "Jamaica" coalition because the colors of the parties involved match the Caribbean country's flag. Read more: How long will Germany have to wait for a government? Jamaica is far away "Jamaica and Germany are 8,500 kilometers apart," Nicola Beer of the FDP told reporters after the first round of talks with the CDU/CSU on Wednesday. "I think today the first few meters of that journey have gone well." Merkel has acknowledged that the talks won't be easy. There are significant policy differences between staunch conservatives in the CDU/CSU, for example, and the left faction of the Greens. To avoid a deadlock in the negotiations, all sides will likely have to compromise on a range of thorny issues, including European Union reform, action on climate change, taxation and refugee policy. No government before 2018 A number of critics in the chancellor's own bloc have called for a shift to the right after September's election saw the conservatives suffer their worst result since 1949, while the far-right Alternative for Germany party made strong gains. CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who has been highly critical of Merkel's decision to open the borders to asylum seekers in 2015, reiterated Wednesday that limiting immigration was a "very, very important" goal. That's a position the Greens strongly disagree with. Greens negotiator Jürgen Trittin has warned of growing populist tendencies in the CDU/CSU bloc, saying that their hardline demands on the refugee issue would present "massive hurdles." The distribution of ministerial posts between the parties is also expected to be a tricky point of discussion. Most analysts say it's unlikely a new government will be formed before the end of the year.

Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc has begun talks on forging a three-way coalition. During the negotiations, all parties will have to find common ground on a slew of divisive issues, from immigration to climate policy. Exploratory talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) kicked off on ... Read More »

Angela Merkel denies major damage after conservatives’ local election loss

Is Angela Merkel already under pressure less than a month after re-election? The German chancellor has fought back after her party's poor performance in Lower Saxony and the rise of a "new" conservatism in Austria. It's safe to say that October 15 won't make Angela Merkel's list of favorite days. Having led by as much as 10 percentage points in polls not that long ago, the chancellor's conservative CDU party finished second-best to the Social Democrats in Lower Saxony's regional election, causing critics to ponder whether Merkel's fortunes were on the wane. A headline in Germany's Bild newspaper termed the chancellor "seriously damaged" – an impression she sought to refute on Monday as she heads into negotiations for a broad three-party coalition to form the next government. "I – or we as the CDU, as conservatives – are going into these discussions secure in the knowledge that we're the strongest party," Merkel told reporters at party headquarters in Berlin. "I don't see the result of the Lower Saxony vote as weakening us as we tackle this task.” It was perhaps a telling near-slip of the tongue. Despite winning Germany's national election last month, the result was the CDU's worst ever in terms of percentage, which has led some critics to speculate that Merkel's moderation may be costing the party right-wing votes. Austria's simultaneous national lurch to the right after a victory by a self-branded new style of conservative, Sebastian Kurz, was also interpreted as an implicit criticism of the centrist Merkel and her welcoming stance on migrants. Both Kurz's conservatives and the right-wing populist FPÖ performed strongly. "The success of Kurz and the FPÖ can be interpreted as the opposite of Merkel's position, as a rejection of the culture of welcoming migrants," political science professor Eckhard Jesse told DW. Merkel dismissed the idea that Kurz had gotten something right that she had gotten wrong. "Our margin of victory over the second strongest party was a lot larger," Merkel said, adding that Germany's far-right populist party, the AfD, had achieved far more "modest" results then the FPÖ. Refugees a 'matter of rhetoric' Still, Merkel did seem a bit disgruntled. The longtime chancellor was no doubt hoping for a bit more momentum as she attempts to build Germany's first ever "Jamaica" coalition with the free-market FDP and the more left-wing Greens. Another question heading into Wednesday's first talks was where the CDU would position itself in that triangle. There has been speculation that after conservatives won less than 33 percent of the vote in the Bundestag election on September 24, Merkel would have no choice but to reposition her party further to the right. As if to refute that notion, the chancellor appeared in front of a backdrop with the slogan "Die Mitte," or "the center." She also said that the policy differences, particularly on the issue of migrants, between her conservatives and Kurz's party in Austria had been overestimated. "As far as differences in refugee policy are concerned, I've talked with Mr. Kurz a number of times, and they're not all that clear," Merkel said. "I think there's not much disagreement about fighting the root causes and the need to conclude an agreement with Turkey. It's more a matter of rhetoric." While Merkel would lose credibility with a dramatic shift to the right, experts say that the chancellor, who has promised there will be no repeat of the mass migration to Germany of 2015, has already tacitly begun modulating her positions. "In practice, she's already moved, but she's not going to make a big deal of it in the form of statements," Jesse explained. Still, it's going to be a tricky balancing act to mediate between the FDP's calls for more restrictive policies on migrants with the Green's more welcoming position – all the while trying to ensure that the wishes of her own party are met. An orderly transition to a post-Merkel era? Merkel stressed that she was not going into coalition talks with any preconceived notions, saying that the CDU would not be presenting any "lines in the sand." When asked which topics the CDU would be pushing, she named pensions and the needs of rural people. Otherwise, she tended to stick to issues on which there is broad consensus, like the need for more digitalization and affordable places to live in Germany, while largely avoiding the migrant topic. That may be interpreted as weakness, although Jesse cautioned against reading too much into one bad day for the chancellor. "The election in Lower Saxony was very much one of local issues," he explained. "The Jamaica coalition is not endangered. It's nonsense to act as though Merkel's position in the coalition negotiations has been weakened." But Jesse also thinks that Merkel's next moves will be conditioned by the idea that she may not want to serve out another full four year term as chancellor. "The question is how long she wants to do this," Jesse said. "I think she'll hand over power some time in the next legislative period. She'll make a surprise announcement, and the next man or woman will have a chance to show what he or she can do. I believe she'll be the first chancellor to successfully manage a transition."

Is Angela Merkel already under pressure less than a month after re-election? The German chancellor has fought back after her party’s poor performance in Lower Saxony and the rise of a “new” conservatism in Austria. It’s safe to say that October 15 won’t make Angela Merkel’s list of favorite days. Having led by as much as 10 percentage points in ... Read More »

Bundestag cybercampaigns take to Facebook and Twitter

The presidential election in the United States has made it abundantly clear that social media is a vital tool for winning voters. So how do political parties in Germany approach online campaigning? DW takes a look. Many members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) wish Germany's 2017 elections could take place right now. The SPD is currently riding a wave of euphoria unleashed by Martin Schulz's candidacy for the chancellorship, and bolstered by the election of Frank-Walter Steinmeier as German president - both of which are perfect occasions for tweeting and posting on social networks. Steinmeier demonstrated his prowess in this regard on the day of the election. He posted a picture on his Facebook page of his wife straightening his tie; then, shortly afterwards, users saw the two of them holding hands on their way to the Bundestag. This was followed by the photo from his voter ID card, then by a picture of the current president, Joachim Gauck, congratulating him; and finally, Steinmeier's own speech of thanks. And, on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the SPD's homepage, chancellor candidate Schulz is omnipresent. The SPD has set up a "central election platform" for Schulz supporters under the hashtag #kampa17, for all those who "want to set about making Germany a better place." CDU warms up Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) do not yet seem to have begun campaigning online. On the party's Instagram page is a photo of the chancellor handing a bunch of flowers to Steinmeier after his election to the presidency. The CDU was, after all, instrumental in putting him forward for the job: He was the candidate of both coalition parties. The Left party looks more as if it's gearing up for the campaign. You can download a draft of its election program from the homepage, and speeches by party leaders on the subject are positioned at number one on the party's YouTube channel. By putting forward a candidate for the presidency, the poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge, the Left clearly distanced itself from the CDU-SPD grand coalition, and this is also how the party has presented itself online. With 170,000 likes on Facebook, the Left has more fans than the CDU, the SPD or the Greens. AfD's "anti-election" When it comes to Facebook fans,the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is doing better still. The far-right party also has the most subscribers to its YouTube channel. Both off- and online, it's been campaigning against all the other parties for quite a while now - and is happy to use insinuation and false "facts" to do so. Thus, the AfD's Facebook page still claims that the Federal Criminal Police Office believes refugees are more dangerous than Germans. When it made this assertion, the BKA immediately corrected it: It does not correspond to the facts. A user has pointed this out underneath the AfD post - but the party itself makes no mention of the correction on its page. The Greens have had similar experiences to the AfD's. Their press office reports that a local right-wing group posted a fake anti-German statement on Facebook, allegedly made by the Greens, as a counterfeit "Green perspective." Users exposed it as fake news, however, and it has now disappeared. So far, the Greens' online campaigning is still muted. They congratulate the new German president, but otherwise the spotlight is on their own leading candidates, Katrin Göring-Eckardt and Cem Özdemir. The Greens' press office told DW that they don't want to rely on the internet alone. Campaigning on the street - direct contact with voters - has always been very successful, they said. The campaign budget has been divided equally between online and personal campaigning. Party members can also book workshops for campaigning on the street and door-to-door, as well as for "debating with right-wing populists at the stall."

The presidential election in the United States has made it abundantly clear that social media is a vital tool for winning voters. So how do political parties in Germany approach online campaigning? DW takes a look. Many members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) wish Germany’s 2017 elections could take place right now. The SPD is currently riding a wave ... Read More »

Court: Bavarians have no right to vote for Merkel

Two Bavarian lawyers are challenging a basic tenet of Germany's political landscape in the election year - the bond between the CDU and the CSU. They lost the first battle, but want to go to the constitutional court. It's a strange wrinkle in the German political system, but the fraught climate and the importance of this September's election make ironing it out more urgent than ever, according to two Bavaria lawyers. Nuremberg law team Rainer and Christine Roth argue that the pact between Angela Merkel's conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and its Bavarian cousin, the Christian Social Union (CSU), deprives of them of their constitutional right to a free vote - since the CSU has been pushing a more right-wing agenda and pressuring Merkel - not least over her refugee policy. In the face of this, the long-time conservative supporters say the issue has become critical - even though the alliance between the two parties has been in place since their birth in 1950. For that reason, the right to vote for a stabilizing centrist like Merkel is vital. "The pressure has increased significantly in the year 2016 going into 2017," Rainer Roth told DW. "Not only domestically, but also because of the international political situation. The rise of two presidents who have to be treated with care leading the world's two superpowers, a lot of very difficult presidents of mid-sized powers, and we have a possible collapse of the European Union. We also have populist tendencies in Europe, including in Germany." "In my opinion, we need universally-recognized politicians in this difficult time who can help shape Germany's affairs. And at the moment I don't see any alternative to Mrs. Merkel," he said. Constitutional issue But Rainer Roth can't vote for Merkel's party because Germany's electoral law is organized by state. As well as directly-elected candidates in individual seats, German parties field lists of candidates who are elected to the Bundestag according to the proportion of the national vote. But state party organizations draw up these "lists" - which means the CSU effectively functions as the CDU's regional representative, so they draw up the list from their own candidates. As a solution, the Roths suggest that either the CDU be forced to field candidates in Bavaria, or, more realistically, that parties be allowed to set up national lists so that Bavarian CDU supporters can cast their vote for Merkel's party nationally. But so far the Roths have failed to get a German court to agree with them. A court in Hesse dismissed their case last week, on the grounds that there was no legal basis to allow their suit, since there was no such thing as a national list, and it did not see that their constitutional rights were being damaged. But Rainer Roth has not lost heart. "I think they missed the issue, because I want to know by which law my right to vote for a major party, a successful party after all, in the German Bundestag, can be limited," he said. "And this question wasn't answered." Parties keeping quiet Unsurprisingly, the two parties have kept quiet on the issue so far, since they both have a tactical interest in the status quo - the arrangement currently gives the CSU national influence with three ministers in Merkel's cabinet, and virtually assures the CDU victory in conservative Bavaria. But over the past year, CSU leader and Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, facing a threat from the populist right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), has been laying down increasingly stinging ultimatums to Merkel, usually involving a cap on refugee intake, and the fissures between the parties have widened. This, as far as Rainer Roth is concerned, makes it "absurd" that he should be forced to vote for the CSU just because he lives in Bavaria. For Frank Bösch, political historian at the University of Potsdam, this is the real value of the lawyers' suit - to point out the problematic relationship between the two parties. "They are not competing organizations, but directly bound together, through common organizations like the [youth organization] Junge Union," he told DW. "That makes the CSU formally a state association of the CDU. And yet its status as an independent party with a fixed parliamentary faction gives the CSU disproportionate political weight - even if the CDU's state association in North Rhine-Westphalia represents significantly more voters." Thomas Schlemmer, CSU specialist at Munich's Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), is sympathetic to the Roths' political frustration, but thinks their campaign is doomed, since the problem is so deeply rooted in Germany's federalist history and the cultural history of the different regions. Not only that, he thinks the idea that a court might force a party to field candidates in parts of the country it didn't want to almost sounds "totalitarian." He also wonders whether the two parties really are so far apart as Seehofer's rhetoric sometimes makes it appear - after all, Merkel's asylum policy has largely followed the CSU's stricter course over the past year. Rainer Roth has also initiated on online petition for his cause, which at time of writing had collected several hundred signatures. "The support from citizens is enormous," he said. "Today I've just been busy answering emails and taking phone calls."

Two Bavarian lawyers are challenging a basic tenet of Germany’s political landscape in the election year – the bond between the CDU and the CSU. They lost the first battle, but want to go to the constitutional court. It’s a strange wrinkle in the German political system, but the fraught climate and the importance of this September’s election make ironing ... Read More »

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