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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 »

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 »

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

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

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

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