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Mediation to halt German day care-worker strike – for now

A weeks-long day care strike in Germany is set to come to an end - at least temporarily. The trade union representing day care workers has agreed with management to enter mediation in an effort to settle a wage row. The Verdi services sector trade union and the VKA federation of local employers announced on Thursday that they had agreed to enter mediation talks aimed at resolving a dispute over how much day care staff are paid. VKA President Thomas Böhle said in a statement that his organization had agreed to go to mediation in order to "spare the children and their parents any further strikes." He also noted that this was good news "for the parents in particular." Verdi boss Frank Bsirske blamed the employers for the fact that the two sides had failed to reach an agreement, saying they had not been willing to accept a general upgrade in status and salaries that Verdi, along with the GEW union and the DBB civil servants' federation were demanding. "It didn't succeed because the employers' side stonewalled and stonewalled [us]," Bsirske said. Status upgrade sought Germany's 240,000 day care workers walked off the job some three weeks ago to back up their demands for an average pay rise of 10 percent. This is coupled with a demand that their job descriptions be upgraded to reflect a higher level of qualification required, due to the increased demands of the job, such as helping immigrant children to learn German and childhood counseling. The VKA has rejected both demands, arguing that if adopted they would result in an increase in costs to the municipalities, which employ the day care workers, of up to 21 percent - something they insist is simply unaffordable. The agreement to go to mediation means that the strikes will end as of Sunday, meaning that day care or "Kita" workers in Germany will return to work on Monday and remain on the job for as long as the two sides choose to remain in the mediation framework. Verdi has called a meeting for this Thursday in Frankfurt, where local strike delegates are to discuss strategy going into the mediation process. According to the DPA news agency, former Hanover Mayor Herbert Schmalstieg was to represent the unions in mediation, while it wasn't immediately clear who the VKA would name to represent its interests. It also wasn't clear when mediation would begin.

A weeks-long day care strike in Germany is set to come to an end – at least temporarily. The trade union representing day care workers has agreed with management to enter mediation in an effort to settle a wage row. The Verdi services sector trade union and the VKA federation of local employers announced on Thursday that they had agreed ... Read More »

Chaos breaks out at Merkel’s press conference with al-Sisi

جرمن چانسلر انگیلا میرکل نے مصری صدر عبدالفتاح السیسی پر زور دیا ہے کہ مصر میں جمہوریت کی مکمل بحالی اور انسانی حقوق کی پاسداری کے حوالے سے کام کیا جائے۔ برلن میں اپنی ایک ملاقات کے بعد دونوں رہنماؤں نے ایک مشترکہ پریس کانفرنس سے خطاب کیا۔ اس موقع پر السیسی کا کہنا تھا کہ مصری عوام جمہوریت اور آزادی چاہتے ہیں، تاہم ان کا ملک ایک غیرمعمولی صورت حال کا شکار ہے۔ خیال رہے کہ سن 2013ء میں فوج نے منتخب صدر محمد مرسی کا تختہ الٹ دیا تھا۔ اس وقت السیسی فوجی سربراہ تھے اور گزشتہ برس انتخابات کے نتیجے میں وہ صدر کے عہدے پر براجمان ہو گئے۔

Angela Merkel has praised Egypt’s peace efforts in the Middle East following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Berlin. The pair’s press conference was shut down after it descended into chaos. The news conference hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday came to an abrupt end after security was called in to remove a ... Read More »

Germany wants to build bridges with Britain before Cameron’s EU talks with Merkel

British Prime Minister Cameron wants to promote EU reforms when he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin this Friday. Where do mutual interests lie? What are the differences between the two nations? The government in Berlin is waiting in eager anticipation to hear David Cameron's vision for a reformed European Union. British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond has told the BBC that Britain is seeking a substantial reform package; otherwise he predicts that the pro-Europeans will not win the referendum. Cameron can count on open minds in Germany, unlike other EU states, such as France, which is critical of the British prime minister. The German Christian Democrat MEP, David McAllister, who has both German and British citizenship, told Deutsche Welle, "Generally, Germany is very willing to accept British proposals." Of course, the details are decisive and the possibilities within existing European treaties must be examined, but McAllister welcomes reforms that would make the European Union more effective and less bureaucratic. Many similarities between the two nations Baron Martin Callanan, Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group until 2014 and since then, Conservative life peer in the House of Lords, has emphasized the similarities between Germany, the United Kingdom and their governments. Callanan told DW that the British Conservatives and the German Christian Democrats believe 'in many similar things: open markets, free trade and sound financial management.' He adds, "We have a lot in common with Berlin," as opposed to, 'socialist, interventionist France.' Incidentally, Cameron is not as isolated in Europe as the media often present him to be. "Cameron says what many people think," says Callanan. He claims that dissatisfaction with the EU is not just a British phenomenon. In this respect, the British government sees itself as a pioneer. The envisaged EU reforms are actually in the interest of all member states, according to Cameron's government program, which Queen Elizabeth II quoted in her speech to both Houses of Parliament at the State Opening of Parliament 2015 earlier this week. Amendments to treaties are difficult to make But how far can the reforms go? A major obstacle would be amendments to the European treaties since all Member States would have to agree to them, and referendums might even be necessary in some countries. German MEP McAllister says, "There is no leeway for extensive treaty reforms in the near future." Consequently, the EU must 'look at how the British proposals in the framework of existing agreements can be implemented or how to accommodate London's ideas on minor changes to the treaties.' Chancellor Merkel has already drawn the line at the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market, including the free movement of workers – which includes the free choice of residence and place of work in EU countries. She refuses to touch these basic principles. European Commissioner Günther Oettinger expressed the same views in a radio interview with the German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. He said the Commission will not necessarily make use of all its powers, but that there would be no official transfer of powers back to the national level. Is Europe just a market or much more? The differing German and British views on European unification reflect a long history of traditions. The British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan claims that the great majority of his countrymen mainly see Europe as a market and nothing more. Hannan does not object to being labeled a Eurokeptic; as a matter of fact, he is even proud of it, he says. "Being skeptical means you do not blindly believe everything and that you ask for evidence. The problem with the European project is that people put their belief ahead of reality." The monetary union shows how Greece was accepted on political grounds but against better judgement. In contrast, David McAllister still holds fast to the German idea of Europe. "I am a German Christian Democrat. To me, the EU is more than just a single market. To us in Germany, European unity is a political project." he says. As of late, McAllister has been making frequent appearances on British television and radio shows to explain German views. The British people must, of course, decide for themselves in the referendum, he says, but it is important to build bridges and to show them that 'we appreciate the fact that they are still with us.' Is the UK on its way out of the EU? "No, I do not think so," he replies. In the end, the majority will vote to stay in the EU.

British Prime Minister Cameron wants to promote EU reforms when he meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin this Friday. Where do mutual interests lie? What are the differences between the two nations? The government in Berlin is waiting in eager anticipation to hear David Cameron’s vision for a reformed European Union. British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond has told the ... Read More »

Singhammer calls off Russia visit after Wellmann is refused entry

A senior German parliamentarian has called off a trip to Russia. This comes a day after a fellow lawmaker was sent home by the Russian authorities after they refused him entry to the country. Johannes Singhammer, one of the vice presidents of the German parliament, the Bundestag, announced on Tuesday that he had canceled a trip to Moscow in light of the treatment of fellow conservative lawmaker Karl-Georg Wellmann. "As vice president of the German Bundestag I cannot accept that a Bundestag colleague has been denied entry at a Moscow airport," Singhammer said. Singhammer had planned to arrive in Moscow this Tuesday, where between now and Friday he had talks scheduled at the Russian interior ministry, with lawmakers from the Russian-German friendship group, church representatives and opposition politicians. Singhammer indicated, though, that he had postponed, not canceled the trip. "In difficult times discussion at all levels are important to avoid differing perceptions of reality," Singhammer said. He said he would not consider traveling to Russia at least until the reasons for Wellmann's entry ban were clear. Praise for postponement The decision by Singhammer, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-based sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), to cancel the trip won him praise from a number of fellow parliamentarians. The Bundestag's speaker or president, Norbert Lammert (CDU), expressed support for the move, as did Greens MEP Rebecca Harms, who called on western European lawmakers to agree on a joint response to the development. "In any case, we shouldn't accept a Russian a la carte policy" she told the Reuters news agency. "The Kremlin must clearly state whether there is a list of Western politicians who are no longer allowed to enter." Harms was also barred from entering Russia last September. Lammert, though, stopped short of supporting the idea of a blanket boycott of trips to Russia by European lawmakers, saying it was "the responsibility of each individual parliamentarian to decide whether such a trip makes sense at this point in time." Forced to spend night in transit area Wellmann (CDU), the chairman of the German-Ukrainian parliamentary group, who, like Harms, has been critical of the Kremlin over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea last year and its alleged role in supporting pro-Russia separatists in the conflict in the east of the country, was refused entry when he arrived at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport on Sunday night. Wellmann was forced to spend the night in the transit area before taking the first available flight back to Berlin on Monday. Wellmann also said he was told that he was banned from entering Russia until late 2019. Germany's ambassador in Moscow has filed a protest over the incident with the Russian foreign ministry.

A senior German parliamentarian has called off a trip to Russia. This comes a day after a fellow lawmaker was sent home by the Russian authorities after they refused him entry to the country. Johannes Singhammer, one of the vice presidents of the German parliament, the Bundestag, announced on Tuesday that he had canceled a trip to Moscow in light ... Read More »

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A split appears imminent in the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AFD) party. Co-founder Bernd Lucke - a professor of economics - has threatened to quit the party, lamenting the far-right influence in AfD's ranks. Lucke and four other AfD European parliamentarians called a press conference for Tuesday in Strasbourg. Reports on Monday said they had already founded a new association called "Weckruf 2015," or "Wake-up call 2015." In a message to members, Lucke said he did not believe that appeals for unity helped any more. "The fundamental attitudes of these two groups are irreconcilable," Lucke wrote in an open letter, a clear allusion to the growing right-wing influences on AfD policies - people more troubled by the EU's rules on migration, for instance, than on the economic merits of monetary union. "We are not willing to serve as a serious facade in civil society for these groups," Lucke and his allies told party members in their letter. New party intended? His rival, Frauke Petry, an AfD co-chairperson who also heads the AfD's eastern Saxony state branch, called on Lucke on Monday to distance himself from the reports that a new association or party was intended. Lucke, a free-market economics professor vehemently opposed to European monetary union, co-founded the AfD in 2013 to protest German and EU-wide policies during the eurozone debt crisis. It unsettled German politics by creating an opposition alternative to the right of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The AfD fell narrowly short of being elected to the German federal parliament in September 2013, just missing the 5-percent hurdle that guarantees representation. Footholds in five assemblies Since then, however, it has gained opposition footholds in the European Parliament and in five German regional parlaiments, the latest being the city-state of Bremen. A fellow market liberal and former German industry leader, Hans-Olaf Henkel, resigned his party executive seat last month after clashing with what he termed "right-wing ideologues" in the AfD. Lucke said on Monday that if the AfD failed at its federal party conference on June 13 to isolate itself from the "machinations" of right-wing nationalists then the formation of a new party was possibly the only way forward. "We don't see a future for us in the AfD if the party doesn't decisively resist those who while brawling try to draw attention to themselves or peddle on the fringe of society," wrote Lucke and his supporters. Early this month, the German business newspaper "Handelsblatt" reported that the AfD has 21,226 members plus a further 1,502 supporters who donate money.

A split appears imminent in the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AFD) party. Co-founder Bernd Lucke – a professor of economics – has threatened to quit the party, lamenting the far-right influence in AfD’s ranks. Lucke and four other AfD European parliamentarians called a press conference for Tuesday in Strasbourg. Reports on Monday said they had already founded a new association ... Read More »

Reining in the BND: intel oversight’s ‘structural deficit’

Wikileaks' publishing of the NSA inquiry transcripts have shown that BND witnesses are using loopholes to avoid answering questions. Experts say the Bundestag's inquiry and oversight committees need structural solutions. Wikileaks published on Tuesday transcripts of Germany's parliamentary inquiry into the activities of the US intelligence agency NSA on German soil and its collaboration with its German counterpart the BND. The transcripts show that witnesses, most of them BND personnel, are using loop holes to avoid answering MPs' questions. The transcripts also show varying responses to questions during public and private sessions. However, in multiple instances, the witnesses declined to respond to questions from MPs after legal counsel, beckoning the question: what is the inquiry committee allowed to do and does the government's oversight mechanism have the necessary tools to perform its function? As the inquiry committee continues to question BND personnel over the extent of the spy agency's collaboration with the NSA, experts question the committee's ability to fulfill its task. 'Transatlantic crisis' Russell Miller, professor of law at Washington and Lee University in the US, told DW that there is "a structural deficit in technical competences" when it comes to intelligence oversight committees in Germany and the US. "We ought to be serious about holding executive power accountable. But there is a transatlantic crisis to think this is a distinctive American pathology," Miller told DW. "German criticism of the weak NSA regulation obscures the fact that the BND is also poorly regulated. One example is the G-10, which is not up to monitoring [the BND's] highly technical practices." Miller submitted in June 2014 an official report to the Bundestag's inquiry committee on the legal situation of the American intelligence community, noting that the committee's work "implicates the serious security threat to which democracies are uniquely vulnerable." However, Miller thinks more needs to be done to better implement oversight mechanisms, especially due to the technological nature of the BND's practices. 'Structural solutions' Ralf Poscher, a professor of law and director of the Institute of Government and Legal Philosophy at Freiburg University in Germany, told DW that the focus should not be on finding the person "responsible" for breaking the law, but instead on "structural solutions." "It is one of the main issues every democracy is concerned with: controlling their intelligence agencies. Personal consequences will be a political decision. But what is important is that these things come to light and that political accountability is established," Poscher said. Poscher echoed Miller's sentiments with regards to the government's ability to oversee the ways in which intelligence communities operate. "We have structures but I think everyone agrees their insufficient. Structural solutions need to focus on strengthening oversight personnel and judicial means, establishing some form of transparency, and providing technical instruments for oversight. You have to develop big data mechanisms for oversight." Poscher added that it would be naive to think that an intelligence agency would respect national law and that "more realism" needed to be included in the debate. "I think we need to have a more realist discussion about our intelligence agencies. It is a rather naive idea that a spy agency would respect national law," Poscher said.

Wikileaks’ publishing of the NSA inquiry transcripts have shown that BND witnesses are using loopholes to avoid answering questions. Experts say the Bundestag’s inquiry and oversight committees need structural solutions. Wikileaks published on Tuesday transcripts of Germany’s parliamentary inquiry into the activities of the US intelligence agency NSA on German soil and its collaboration with its German counterpart the BND. ... Read More »

Germany must do more to tackle xenophobia, says EU commissioner

The human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe has called on the German government to step up efforts to fight xenophobia. Nils Muiznieks has said there are "clear signs" of increasing intolerance. Speaking in the western French city of Strasbourg on Monday, Muiznieks said that a series of attacks on refugee shelters and regular demonstrations against an alleged "Islamization" of Europe in recent months were "clear signs" of increasing of intolerance in Germany. Following a visit to Germany, Muiznieks also said the affair surrounding the alleged murders by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground (NSU) had brought to light "institutional bias and other serious shortcomings in police and security services." 'Problematic' medical care As well as calling for improvement in criminal prosecution of racist acts, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner also said that clear instructions for police and prosecutors as well as training courses for judges would be necessary. On a positive note, Muiznieks welcomed Germany's decision to provide its Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) with almost 2,000 new jobs, but added that language courses would also be necessary to improve the reception and integration of asylum seekers. The medical care for migrants in some German states was "problematic," he said. Muiznieks' criticism on Monday came less than a week after Germany came under fire from the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. "Racism in Germany is not only found in extreme right-wing circles, but in all parts of society," the German government admitted during the UN review. Germany expects to receive some 400,000 new asylum applications in 2015 - twice as many as last year. Lübeck court sentences arsonist In the northern German city of Lübeck on Monday, a tax collector was sentenced to two years on probation after confessing to the arson attack on an uninhabited refugee home in the nearby town on Escheburg in February. The 39-year-old claimed he had started the fire to prevent Iraqi refugees from moving into the neighborhood. The arson attack on accommodation intended for use by asylum seekers was just one of many in Germany in recent months in cities as far apart as Vorra in Bavaria, Tröglitz in Saxony-Anhalt and Limburgerhof in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe has called on the German government to step up efforts to fight xenophobia. Nils Muiznieks has said there are “clear signs” of increasing intolerance. Speaking in the western French city of Strasbourg on Monday, Muiznieks said that a series of attacks on refugee shelters and regular demonstrations against an alleged “Islamization” ... Read More »

Berlin Philharmonic fails to elect new chief conductor

Despite more than 10 hours of deliberations, members of the Berlin Philharmonic have failed to select their new maestro. The successor will replace Britain's Sir Simon Rattle when his contract ends in 2018. The orchestra's 124 permanent musicians gathered together on Monday at the Protestant Jesus Christ Church in Berlin's southwest where they held a secret ballot for one of the most prestigious jobs in classical music. It is the only orchestra in the world where the musicians chose their chief conductor themselves. Following several rounds of voting, however, the musicans failed to elect their next maestro with a clear majority. Speculation around Philharmonic's next chief conductor has grown in recent weeks, with chief conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann and music directorof the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel among the possible names. Founded in 1882, the Berlin Philharmonic is seen by many as the best orchestra in the world. Over the past six decades, the orchestra has had just three chief conductors: Herbert von Karajan from 1954 to1989, Claudio Abbado until 2002, and current maestro Sir Simon Rattle. The 60-year-old is set to take over as chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra when his contract with the Berlin Philharmonic comes to an end in 2018.

Despite more than 10 hours of deliberations, members of the Berlin Philharmonic have failed to select their new maestro. The successor will replace Britain’s Sir Simon Rattle when his contract ends in 2018. The orchestra’s 124 permanent musicians gathered together on Monday at the Protestant Jesus Christ Church in Berlin’s southwest where they held a secret ballot for one of ... Read More »

Steinmeier honored by a symbolic gesture in France

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier became an honorary citizen of Reims, after presenting his hosts with stained-glass windows for the cathedral in the historic city. German troops damaged the ancient sanctuary in WWI. The cathedral, built over 800 years ago, was targeted by German artillery in 1914, shattering many of the medieval windows and causing a large fire. French authorities replaced or restored most of the panes in the following decades. At a large ceremony on Monday, Germany's top diplomat Frank-Walter Steinmeier revealed three German-made windows in a gesture to close "the last scar of the war." The foreign minister also said that he, as a German, was "deeply grateful that you have received us in this French sanctuary, which was once deeply wounded by Germans." "In the light of these windows there is a glow of the new quality of German-French friendship," he said at the event which was attended by his French counterpart Laurent Fabius and archbishop Thierry Jordan, as well as Reims mayor Arnaud Robinet. After the windows were revealed, Steinmeier received an honorary citizenship from the mayor, saying that it made him "a bit more French" "I am thankful and touched by this honorary citizenship of your proud city," Steinmeier said. Artist refuses fee French officials also awarded the title of honorary citizen of Reims to German painter and installation artist Imi Knoebel, who gave up his fee for creating the windows. The stained-glass windows are composed out of 5402 individual pieces, with total surface of 64 square meters. The German foreign ministry paid for most of the expenses, contributing 900,000 euros, (over one million US dollars). Turbulent 20th century Reims played an important role in French and European history since the Middle Ages, with French kings coming to the northern city to be crowned in the cathedral. However, Reims took own a whole new significance in the 20th century, as a city where German general Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of German troops to the allies on May 7, 1945. Reims was also the scene of a historic meet between German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and president of France Charles de Gaulle in 1962, when the two leaders met in the city's cathedral for a ceremony paving the way to the French-German reconciliation.

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier became an honorary citizen of Reims, after presenting his hosts with stained-glass windows for the cathedral in the historic city. German troops damaged the ancient sanctuary in WWI. The cathedral, built over 800 years ago, was targeted by German artillery in 1914, shattering many of the medieval windows and causing a large fire. French authorities replaced ... Read More »

German arms maker Heckler & Koch ‘illegally exported’ rifles to Mexico

German media reports claim that Heckler & Koch may face a heavy fine for sending thousands of G36 rifles to Mexico. The reports come hours after the defense minister confirmed attempts to cover up the weapon's faults. According to reports published by the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" and broadcaster NDR on Friday, the arms company delivered a total of 9,472 G36 assault rifles to Mexico between 2003 and 2011. The company has been suspected of illegally supplying arms to crisis regions on several occasions. Exports of the rifle, which has faced criticism over accuracy problems, are currently permitted across most of Mexico with the exception of the states of Chiapas, Chihuahua, Guerrero and Jalisco. Export restrictions were implemented there due to suspected police corruption. A previously unpublished report from the Customs Criminal Office (ZKA) in Cologne alleges, however, that Heckler & Koch delivered some 4,767 G36 guns to the prohibited states. In the town of Iguala in Guerrero, where 43 students were last year abducted by the police and later allegedly assassinated by gang members, 36 of the illegal rifles were discovered. 'Offenses' against war weapons control The ZKA reportedly concluded that Heckler & Koch was responsible for "bringing about, encouraging, or at least approving" the illegal exports. The criminal office therefore recommended that five former officers and employees of the company should be indicted on grounds of "offenses" against war weapons control and the foreign trade law. The ZKA also urged for Heckler & Koch to be stripped of its 3 million euros of illegal profits made from the exports. G36 fault cover-up In a separate incident on Thursday, Heckler & Koch was also linked to reports by German magazine "Der Spiegel" that a senior German official had written a letter to the military intelligence service MAD, asking it to try to find the source of leaks about the G36 assault rifle. According to the report, the official wrote the letter at the demand of Heckler & Koch, which feared recent media reports on the assault rifle's shortcomings could damage the company's reputation. The G36 had been standard issue in the German military before problems with its accuracy under certain firing conditions came to light. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday she found it "very strange" that Heckler & Koch had approached the ministry about the issue and that it was "completely unacceptable" that the civil servant supported the initiative. Members of Germany's Greens and Left Party have called for a parliamentary inquiry to be set up to investigate the matter further.

German media reports claim that Heckler & Koch may face a heavy fine for sending thousands of G36 rifles to Mexico. The reports come hours after the defense minister confirmed attempts to cover up the weapon’s faults. According to reports published by the German daily “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and broadcaster NDR on Friday, the arms company delivered a total of 9,472 ... Read More »

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