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SPD members begin voting on next Merkel-led German government

450,000-plus Social Democratic party members will decide whether to enter another grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Past referendums have been formalities, but this time the result is anything but assured. The 463,723 party members of the SPD have particularly important pieces of mail in their letterboxes - ballots asking them to decide on the coalition deal the Social Democratic leadership hammered out with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives earlier this month. The Social Democratic rank-and-file have until March 2 to submit their votes, and the result is expected to be announced the following day. Read more: Future German government under Merkel no laughing matter on political roast day The vote is an all-or-nothing affair. If the SPD membership gives the thumbs up, Germany finally gets a new government - six months after the national election last September. If the members say no, the result will either be fresh elections or an uneasy attempt by Merkel to lead a minority government - in any case, further political uncertainty. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union will convene for a party conference in Berlin on February 26, where delegates will be asked to approve the coalition. A clear majority for the deal is expected. Yet SPD approval is not a given. In the past, the SPD membership has approved deals with Merkel by wide margins, but this vote is likely to be very tight. No rubber stamps this time There have been two grand coalitions between the conservatives and the SPD, but neither was even remotely as problematic as this one. In 2005, delegates to a special SPD conference approved the first Merkel government by a wide margin. The coalition took power two months after the national election. In 2013, Social Democrat party members ratified a second coalition with Merkel, with 76 percent of respondents voting yes. The Social Democratic leadership can only dream of a result like that in 2018. At a special SPD conference in January, only 60 percent of delegates voted to authorize their leaders to hold coalition talks with the conservatives. Read more: Refugees vote on German coalition: 'A big step for integration' Former party chairman Martin Schulz had to step down after flip-flopping on the grand coalition and trying to claim the post of foreign minister. The newly designated chairwoman Andrea Nahles and acting party leader Olaf Schulz are struggling to assert their authority with the SPD dropping to historic lows of 16 percent in opinion polls. Meanwhile, the SPD's youth wing, the Jusos, who are led by popular 28-year-old Kevin Kühnert, are continuing to oppose the deal and will be staging events across Germany in the days to come, trying to get members to vote no. SPD enrollment has increased by some 25,000 in recent weeks, and there has been speculation that many new members may have joined specifically in order to oppose the grand coalition. Is the SPD vote even constitutional? Yet even as both the conservative and Social Democratic leaderships seek approval of the coalition deal, there has been criticism among some prominent CDU members of the SPD member referendum. The influential state premier of Rhineland Palatinate, Julia Klöckner, accused SPD leaders of "delegating away" authority by giving the rank-and-file the chance to make the final decision. Read more: Opinion: SPD leader Martin Schulz's political gamble has failed "The SPD leadership should lead instead of causing confusion," Klöckner told a group of German newspapers. Others, including some political scientists, have questioned whether it's constitutional to give SPD members what amounts to a right of veto over the next government. Five complaints have been filed with Germany's Constitutional Court, but the judges have refused to hear them. So, essentially, the SPD's procedure has been deemed legal. The 450,000-plus rank-and-file now have two weeks to fill out and return their ballots, after which all of Germany will learn whether Merkel will able to form a third grand coalition or not.

450,000-plus Social Democratic party members will decide whether to enter another grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Past referendums have been formalities, but this time the result is anything but assured. The 463,723 party members of the SPD have particularly important pieces of mail in their letterboxes – ballots asking them to decide on the coalition deal the Social Democratic ... 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 »

Angela Merkel: Way clear for coalition negotiations after migration compromise

Chancellor Merkel says a compromise on migration reached with the Bavarian CSU is a good basis for exploratory talks on forming a ruling coalition with the Greens and the FDP. Talks are to begin on October 18. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday invited the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Green Party to separate coalition negotiations starting on Wednesday next week, after saying her Christian Democrats (CDU) had reached a viable compromise on migration with Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU). She said the CDU and CSU had "reached a common outcome that I feel is a very good basis for entering into exploratory talks with the FDP and [...] the Greens," Merkel said at a joint press conference with CSU leader Horst Seehofer in Berlin. The issue of a cap on migration has been a bone of contention for years between the two parties, with the CSU urging that just 200,000 refugees allowed into Germany each year — a limit that critics say breaches German constitutional law on refugees' rights. After long discussions on Sunday, leaders of both parties reached a compromise, agreeing to attempt to limit the influx of refugees without imposing an official cap. Thorny talks ahead? Even so, the issue is likely to cause difficulties with the Greens, who oppose any form of limitation on refugee numbers. Greens co-leader Cem Özdemir has already criticized the compromise, saying that it might be the position taken by the CDU/CSU, but was "not the position of a future government." Despite this and other remaining differences between the CDU/CSU, FDP and Greens, Merkel said on Saturday that a "Jamaica" coalition consisting of the four parties — so-called because the combination of the parties' signature colors results in the colors of the Jamaican flag — was the only realistic option to form a reliable government. This came after the Social Democrats (SPD), the current junior coalition partner, said that they wanted to go into opposition rather than again form part of a "grand coalition." So far, the schedule for exploratory talks envisages separate talks between the CDU/CSU and the FDP and the CDU/CSU and the Greens on October 18, followed by talks between FDP and Greens the following day. All parties are scheduled to convene on October 20. The four parties have all said they will not enter into any coalition with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which will send 94 deputies to the Bundestag after receiving some 13 percent of the vote in September elections.

Chancellor Merkel says a compromise on migration reached with the Bavarian CSU is a good basis for exploratory talks on forming a ruling coalition with the Greens and the FDP. Talks are to begin on October 18. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday invited the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Green Party to separate coalition negotiations starting on Wednesday next ... Read More »

German coalition denies fight over new asylum legislation

Despite critical remarks from members of the SPD, Germany's ruling coalition has denied any internal tensions surrounding the latest asylum legislation draft. The government approved the package earlier this week. Germany's ruling coalition party partners - the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) - denied reports on Saturday that a renewed dispute had broken out concerning the latest proposed asylum measures. Although the asylum package was approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet earlier this week, some coalition members seemed unaware of the details and expressed their opposition to some measures in the proposed set of laws. Sigmar Gabriel, vice chancellor, economy minister and leader of the SPD party, said he did not agree with the draft's measure to suspend family reunification for unaccompanied minors, according to the German public broadcaster ARD. Gabriel only learned of the change after being asked about it during an ARD interview and presented with evidence. All ministries, including those led by the SPD, received copies of the draft legislation. Despite conflicting remarks from its party leader, the SPD said on Saturday that the dispute was a "non-issue" during a meeting of SPD, CDU and CSU leaders. Reuters news agency also reported on Friday that circles within the SPD were "not questioning" the asylum draft. Numerous CDU/ CSU politicians asked for SPD politicians on Saturday to stand by the coalition agreement and pass the proposed legislation. Mixed messages CDU politician Thomas Strobl remarked that he was "very surprised" about some SPD members' apparent opposition to the asylum bills. "The rules concerning family reunification were a central issue in the negotiations for 'Asylum Package II' and had been widely discussed for weeks," he emphasized. "It's irritating that the SPD chairman suddenly claims not to be in the know. "One should expect that the SPD departments would carefully read the draft legislation," he added. Opposition parties were also quick to react to the latest coalition quarrels. Green party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt said it was inconceivable that one side of the government is unaware of what the other is doing - especially in a matter that will have major consequences for refugee minors. "It is also extremely worrying that this was not even noticed within the SPD-led ministries," she said. 'Suspended' reunification for refugees In the new bill, family reunification for refugees would be suspended for two years for people with "subsidiary protection." This group is comprised of people who do not have a right to asylum and who have no protection under the Geneva Convention. They are, however, allowed temporarily to remain in Germany if deportation would result in their lives being put in danger. In an earlier draft of the proposed legislation, unaccompanied minors had been excluded from this group, however the clause was not part of the bill as agreed upon by cabinet ministers. The legislation aims to provide German authorities with the ability to manage the environment created by more than 1 million migrants entering the country in 2015, many seeking asylum after fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. After the cabinet's approval, the legislative package will go to both houses of German parliament for debate.

Despite critical remarks from members of the SPD, Germany’s ruling coalition has denied any internal tensions surrounding the latest asylum legislation draft. The government approved the package earlier this week. Germany’s ruling coalition party partners – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) – denied reports on Saturday that a ... Read More »

Putin’s anti-‘Islamic State’ coalition dilemma

The downing of a Russian bomber leaves Putin with some tough decisions. Will he change his views on Assad and join a broader anti-"IS" coalition or stick with an alliance of two with Iran? Fiona Clark reports. President Putin must be wondering where it all went wrong. It seemed for a moment that Russia had the upper hand with its involvement in Syria. America was caught on the back foot when Russia started its campaign in September, and with a terrorist attack on its plane and the tragic events in Paris, it seemed like Russia and France were forging a closer relationship in their anti-"Islamic State" (IS) offensive. But what a difference 17 seconds makes. That's the length of time the Russian bomber allegedly violated Turkish airspace for. I say allegedly because Russia still denies any airspace violation and in what seems an all too familiar refrain, the Russian media is publishing multiple stories about the number of times Turkish military planes violated Greek airspace - 2,244 times apparently in 2014 alone. But the 'everyone's doing it, so why can't we' just doesn't wash. Russia had been warned by NATO and by Turkey itself that airspace violations wouldn't be tolerated but it doesn't seem to take those warnings seriously. As the UK's Telegraph newspaper quite clearly, but not too tactfully stated, 'if you play with fire, you end up getting burned.' More significantly, the bombing has given the US the ammunition is needs to win back the ground it lost when Russia started its activities in Syria. It says the bombing highlights how flawed Russia's strategy to take out non-IS targets is. It has also accused Russia of massively overstating the results of its sorties and according to Colonel Steve Warren, the US Baghdad-based coalition spokesman, Russia's "sloppy military work" has cost the lives of more than 1,000 civilians - an allegation Russia denies. US versus Russian point scoring on whose strike rate is bigger aside, Putin has been trying to claim that the two countries are more alike than they seem. Speaking at a press conference on Monday he claimed the US and Russia's interests are ‘not so different' and that Russia poses no threat to anyone. Oil sales fund IS But the president also had another story to tell at a press conference in Sochi on Tuesday. There he blamed the US for the rise of IS in Syria and Iraq, saying not only was it backing groups that sold their US-supplied weaponry to the highest bidder - in this case IS - but its strategy failed to contain the outflow of oil that directly funds the terrorist group. According to analysts that funding could be somewhere between $250,000 (236,000 euros) to $1.5 million (1.4 million euros) a day. He went on to say that Turkey's borders were porous and that convoys of trucks carrying oil made it to market by crossing from Syria to Turkey. From Russia's point of view, the territory along that border region isn't just a floodgate for refugees, but a Turkish-sanctioned torrent for illegal oil flows bound for markets where G20 countries buy it and inadvertently prop up the very enemy they want to defeat. It's here that Russia does have a point. Oil is like a fingerprint. Depending on where it's from it has its own specific chemical composition and as such, is traceable - so in theory if you wanted to cut off funds to IS there are a few choices: a) stopping the oil supply at source or before it gets to market, b) once it's sold find out who facilitated it and sanction them, c) after the sale follow the money trail and freeze the bank accounts it goes into. These are all viable options, but from Russia's point of view, they're not being exercized, so it has decided it will stop the oil at source itself. In fact, in what appears to be a stab in the back for Turkey, Russia claims that it is Turkey that is also benefitting from the sales - making it an accomplice to terrorism - and that's why the area along the border is so important to it. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, after the downing of the Russian bomber, claimed that some Turkish officials were involved in the sale of IS oil, but he didn't name names. #boycottTurkey The downing of the fighter plane and the shooting of the pilots as they parachuted to the ground by Turkmen forces yelling "Allahu Akbar" has not gone down well in Moscow. Protesters splattered the Turkish embassy with eggs and tomatoes and Russia asked travel agents to cancel holiday tours to Turkey claiming it wasn't safe. The move could cost the Turkish economy about $30 billion a year with some 3-4 million Russians visiting the country annually. Russian food health authorities have - as they always do when they don't like a particular country - stepped up their surveillance of Turkish food imported into the country claiming some 15 percent violates health and safety standards. And, while social media is full of hashtags saying #boycottTurkey alongside statements saying 'every Turkish tomato you buy funds another bomb' to knock Russian fighters out of the sky, Medvedev has said the government will draw up plans or sanctions on joint investment projects with Turkey. Hollande's challenge So it's against this backdrop that French President Francois Hollande is laboring to get Russia onboard for a broader coalition. As it stands now, Russia is in a coalition of two - it and Iran. While the West says the pair are committed to propping up Assad, the message from the meeting between Putin and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was slightly different. It was more about containing outside interests in internal Syrian affairs when it comes to electing a new head of state - or perhaps ensuring it's own. Recently however, Russia has indicated it is willing to contemplate a Syria without Assad at its helm. While it claims it fundamentally disagrees with interfering with a sovereign country's political determinations (even if it doesn't respect various countries' sovereign airspaces itself) and that so far the results of meddling in the Arab spring countries hasn't yielded great results, it may ultimately find it has no choice but to join that dialogue. Putin is going to have to think very hard about which is more important - defeating IS and playing a part in shaping Syria's future or keeping Assad and Russia's Mediterranean naval bases in Syria - for the time being at least. A table for two might be cozy but one thing is for sure, unless Russia is sitting at the big table it won't have a say at all, and that, as the saying goes, would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The downing of a Russian bomber leaves Putin with some tough decisions. Will he change his views on Assad and join a broader anti-“IS” coalition or stick with an alliance of two with Iran? Fiona Clark reports. President Putin must be wondering where it all went wrong. It seemed for a moment that Russia had the upper hand with its ... Read More »

Bundestag President Lammert urges parliamentary oversight in NSA investigation

German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert has criticized a government proposal to appoint its own external investigating officers with access to NSA search terms. He wants both government and opposition to have a say. Lammert told the news magazine Spiegel he did not believe the government should unilaterally select an external investigator who is allowed to view the NSA search terms, also known as "selectors." The opposition wants the list to be available to a committee looking into the spying activities of the US National Security Agency. However, the German government wants to appoint one on its own. However, in an interview with the leading German news magazine "Der Spiegel", the President of the German Bundestag Lammert said there should be accountability to parliament. Lammert told Spiegel that he found the idea of deploying one or a few chosen investigators basically worthy of consideration. "However, from my point of view, the idea of German government appointing this person, is absurd," he said in an interview with Spiegel on Saturday. Lammert's suggestion The head of the Bundestag, however, said he had a different idea, suggesting there be two investigating officers, one coming from the Christian Democrat-Social Democrat coalition and the other from among the opposition parties. The Green Party and The Left Party have already threatened legal action if the list of the search terms is not given to the committee. Even legally a 'no go' The approach of the German government is also problematic for other reasons. According to "Der Spiegel" and the German weekly newspaper "Die Zeit," an internal report of the research service subdivision of the German Bundestag came to the conclusion that it would be illegitimate to grant an external investigator more rights than to parliamentarians. According to the report, an investigating officer would serve as an assistant to the parliament and he or she cannot have more rights than the investigating committee itself. NSA-BND cooperation source of tensions The recent allegations regarding the NSA scandal, suggest that Germany's BND intelligence agency had, perhaps inadvertently, helped the Americans snoop on European companies and individuals. The BND's facility at Bad Aibling in the south of the country was meant to gather data coming out of places like Somalia and Afghanistan, but in recent weeks it came to light that some of these selectors provided by the NSA helped it spy on European companies and officials. The issue of BND cooperation with the NSA is sensitive in Germany, where privacy is highly valued after the extensive snooping by the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany and the Gestapo crimes of the Nazi era.

German Bundestag President Norbert Lammert has criticized a government proposal to appoint its own external investigating officers with access to NSA search terms. He wants both government and opposition to have a say. Lammert told the news magazine Spiegel he did not believe the government should unilaterally select an external investigator who is allowed to view the NSA search terms, ... Read More »

Turkish President Erdogan urges speedy formation of coalition

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked all political parties to put aside their "egos" and quickly form a new government. The president's own party this week lost its absolute majority after 12 years in power. In a first televised appearance since his own ruling party lost its parliamentary majority, Erdogan told politicians they should show humility and find a solution for the sake of the country. "Everyone should put their egos aside and a government must be formed as soon as possible, within the constitutional process," Erdogan said. "We cannot leave Turkey without a government, without a head. Those who are condemned to their egos will neither be able to give account to history, nor to our people." The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan himself set up, lost its absolute majority after 12 years in power in Sunday's parliamentary election. Despite remaining the major party, it is now in need of a coalition partner. Possible candidates include the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP). The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) - which achieved more than the 10 percent of the vote needed to secure parliamentary representation - has rejected joining an AKP-led government. A coalition of the three opposition parties is also possible, but would appear unlikely given their mutual antipathy. If no coalition is formed, Erdogan can call new elections. Troubled history with coalitions Acting as interim prime minister, Erdogan's AKP party colleague Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday said that history had shown Turkey was not well suited to coalition governments, but did not rule out any options. "We've used the coalition eras of the 1970s and 1990s as an example to show that coalitions are not suitable for Turkey and we still stand by that stance," Davutoglu told a meeting of AKP party officials in Ankara. "However, with the current political picture ... We're open to any scenarios based on the latest developments." In-fighting between coalitions in the 1990s undermined Turkey's economy and derailed a series of International Monetary Fund economic aid programs. Davutoglu said on Wednesday that all options would be exhausted before fresh elections were considered.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked all political parties to put aside their “egos” and quickly form a new government. The president’s own party this week lost its absolute majority after 12 years in power. In a first televised appearance since his own ruling party lost its parliamentary majority, Erdogan told politicians they should show humility and find a ... Read More »

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