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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 »

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 »

Merkel’s challenger Martin Schulz lays out vision for chancellery

The ex-European Parliament president has vowed to tackle gender pay gaps, calling them one of the greatest injustices. He further discussed defense spending, executive pay and tax cuts in a German newspaper interview. Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz has discussed some of his policy goals in an interview published by the German weekly "Bild am Sonntag," offering insight into how he plans to challenge Angela Merkel for Germany's top political job. "I would tackle two things directly: the clear commitment to strengthening the European Union and the abolition of one of the greatest injustices: that women for the same work earn less than men," Schutz said. Germany has one of the highest pay gaps in the EU, with a wage discrepancy of over 20 percent between men and women. The politician with the center-left SPD added that his policy will be geared towards the work and life of ordinary citizens. Schulz, who served as European Parliament president from 2012 and stepped down earlier this year, also vowed to curb executive pay. He has made social justice issues a key part of his pitch for leading the country. "I promise that, as chancellor, I will implement a law limiting managers' pay in my agenda for the first 100 days in office," he told "Bild am Sonntag." Schulz said he does not intend to offer tax cuts after German recorded a record-breaking budget surplus amounting to more than 20 billion euros ($21.62 billion). Instead, he says he would use the excess cash for education and infrastructure projects. 'We owe it to our soldiers' Schulz said he wanted to increase defense spending, saying Germany's armed forces known as the Bundeswehr needed more money and should receive it. "We owe it to our soldiers that they are optimally equipped," Schulz said in the interview. However, he stopped short of calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the armed forces, in contrast to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has vowed to go forward with a significant increase in defense spending. Defense spending has become a major subject of debate ahead of the parliamentary elections slated for September after US President Donald Trump's administration warned NATO member states of possible fallout if they failed to meet a 2 percent of GDP target. However, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a member of Schulz' party, has questioned how the target should be assessed, arguing it should include aid and development programs. Schulz said Germany and other European nations needed to work together to stem crises instead of solely pouring money into defense. Meanwhile, the ex-European Parliament president said Gabriel, who stepped out of the race for the German chancellery, would "certainly be part of the federal government." He said Gabriel has done a "super job" as foreign minister. Polls have shown a narrowing gap between Schulz's SPD and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the run-up to the Bundestag elections.

The ex-European Parliament president has vowed to tackle gender pay gaps, calling them one of the greatest injustices. He further discussed defense spending, executive pay and tax cuts in a German newspaper interview. Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz has discussed some of his policy goals in an interview published by the German weekly “Bild am Sonntag,” offering insight ... 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 »

SPD chief reportedly favors theologian Käßmann as German presidency candidate

Social Democrat (SPD) chief Sigmar Gabriel wants to see Protestant theologian Margot Käßmann in the running to be Joachim Gauck's successor, German media has reported. The new president will be elected in February, 2017. Several German newspapers belonging to the "Funke Media Group" reported on Wednesday that Social Democrat (SPD) chief and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel wants to see Margot Käßmann become a candidate for the German presidency. According to Wednesday's reports, Käßmann is yet to confirm whether she wants to stand as a candidate to become Germany's 12th post-war president. Gabriel, however, has reportedly asked for a second meeting with Käßmann to discuss her candidacy further. Käßmann, a Lutheran theologian was previously Bishop of the Protestant-Lutheran Church of Hanover. In 2009, she was elected to lead the German Protestant Church, but stepped down four months later after driving through a red light whilst driving under the influence of alcohol. 'Open-minded' Left Party chairman Bernd Riexinger also confirmed on Wednesday that Gabriel had already discussed with the Left whether they would support Käßmann's potential candidacy. Riexinger told German paper "Berliner Zeitung": "We want a candidate who is open-minded and stands for social justice and a peaceful foreign policy." "Ms Käßmann would meet [this requirement], without doubt." At the same time, however, Riexinger said the leftists were not very enthusiastic about the public speculations about Käßmann. "It would be regrettable if the Grand Coalition played tactical gimmicks with the Federal President's office or with Frau Käßmann," Riexinger said. One-term Gauck Despite the talks with the Left, "Funke Media Group" reported that Gabriel still favors a consensus with the SPD's Grand Coalition partners - Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Unlike the German chancellor, the German president chosen not by popular vote, but rather selected by what's known as the Federal Convention. It's comprised in equal parts of the Bundestag parliamentary delegates and representatives from Germany's sixteen federal states - thereby reflecting the relative strengths of Germany's political parties both nationwide and locally. Gauck's successor is due to be elected by Germany's Federal Assembly on February 12, 2017. Merkel had originally hoped that he would serve a second term, but the 76-year-old announced in June that he would not run for a second term as head of state. Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor, said he was worried about his ability to continue devoting enough energy to the job if he continued into his eighties. Although the German president is nominally the head of state, aside from certain constitutional duties, his function is largely ceremonial.

Social Democrat (SPD) chief Sigmar Gabriel wants to see Protestant theologian Margot Käßmann in the running to be Joachim Gauck’s successor, German media has reported. The new president will be elected in February, 2017. Several German newspapers belonging to the “Funke Media Group” reported on Wednesday that Social Democrat (SPD) chief and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel wants to see Margot ... Read More »

German Left stalwart Gregor Gysi to run for Bundestag

Gregor Gysi, a Left party veteran renowned for his rhetoric, says he'll run again for parliament next year. Gysi says Chancellor Merkel's conservatives must be voted into opposition to make the far-right AfD superfluous. Gysi, who stood down as the opposition Left's parliamentary group leader last year after a 10-year tenure, said Thursday that his party must again strive for an alliance with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. In an apparent bid to reassure the Left's younger heads, Gysi said he was "pulling on the same rope" as co-leaders Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger and its leading Bundestag parliamentarians Sahra Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch. "Angela Merkel has undone solidarity in Europe like no other chancellor before," Gysi told the Berlin Kurier newspaper, adding that he would only stand as a direct candidate in his Berlin electorate of Treptow-Köpenick. "The protest against Merkel must be channeled in the correct direction so that finally something can develop positively in this country," he said. Germany and Europe needed "a different, a social, a peaceful and democratic political agenda," he said. That could only be achieved with a strong left, capable of relegating Merkel's CDU/CSU conservatives into the opposition and thereby making superfluous the upstart Alternative for Germany (AfD), he asserted. Gysi said he reached his decision after "careful consideration," prompted by "requests and signals," particularly from within his own electorate. His announcement precedes Berlin city-state's election due on Sunday. Gysi, who was a lawyer in former communist East Germany before being first elected to the Bundestag in 1990, had until Thursday stayed mute on whether he would run again. Two weeks ago, Gysi accused Merkel's coalition government - comprising her conservatives and the center-left SPD under Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel - of distancing itself from the German federal parliament's condemnation of Turkey's World War One massacre of Armenians. Berlin-Ankara ties plunged after that resolution.

Gregor Gysi, a Left party veteran renowned for his rhetoric, says he’ll run again for parliament next year. Gysi says Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives must be voted into opposition to make the far-right AfD superfluous. Gysi, who stood down as the opposition Left’s parliamentary group leader last year after a 10-year tenure, said Thursday that his party must again strive for ... Read More »

Foreigners become naturalized Germans despite detractors

One million people have gained German citizenship since 2000, becoming dual nationals. The data, gleaned by the opposition Greens, follows a Bavarian conservative demand that dual citizenship be abolished. The federal interior ministry statistics made public Wednesday by the Greens parliamentary group also showed that by 2013 half-a-million children whose both parents were resident foreigners had acquired German nationality on birth. Detailed figures showed 958,701 German naturalizations since 2000 and 491,862 newborns of foreign parents recognized initially as German citizens. Germany's legislature adopted the place-of-birth principle in 2000 after heated electoral debate that saw the-then governing Social Democrats under ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder scuttle their plan to allow full dual citizenship without restraint. Their modified law change instead required children, once they reach maturity at 18 or before their 23rd birthday, to opt for one of two nationalities, for example, by remaining German but renouncing nationalities derived from their parents. Abolition call Last weekend, Bavarian allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who have long railed against her liberal refugee policies, called in a five-page paper that dual citizenship, even in its limited form, be abolished - in response to recent far-right gains. Since 2000, the rate of foreigners seeking German nationalization has slowed to about 110,000 per year - a trend that researchers at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) attributed in 2011 to "the need to give up one's previous nationality." Wednesday's figures also recalled that Germany's last census conducted in 2011 had recorded 4.26 million persons who aside from having German nationality also had a further nationality. The ministry was quoted though as warning that that total had a "large statistical uncertainty" because a subsequent micro-census in 2015 had recorded only 1.69 million dual nationals within Germany. CDU/CSU 'fantasizing,' say Greens Greens interior affairs expert Volker Beck claimed Wednesday that in relation to Germany's total population of 82 million, the data debunked anti-migrant sentiment. The interior ministers of [Merkel's allied grouping comprising her Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU)] should cease fantasizing about multiple nationalities," Beck told Düsseldorf's "Rheinische Post" newspaper. It would be more sensible that Germany "significantly improve its integration services for immigrants and refugees, said the Greens parliamentarian who party accuses Merkel's coalition government of impeding nationalization efforts. 'Modern citizenship law' needed Early last week, the federal government's integration commissioner Aydan Özoguz reiterated her Social Democrat party's call that Germany adopt a "modern citizenship law" with the option of dual nationality for all those willing to integrate. She told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine" newspapers that Germany's naturalization quota lay far below the EU average. Fewer foreign residents were willing to renounce "their old passport." Berlin election highlights 'gap' As a result, a gaping hole existed between the population measured in terms of resident foreigners and those Germans with constitutional rights to vote. No society could function long-term, when a large portion was excluded from political participation, she said. Ahead of Berlin city-state's election next Sunday, the non-governmental organization Citizens for Europe is campaigning on the issue that more than half-million Berliners will have no say. Extra resources for integration In July, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizìere praised extra funding and higher tutoring wages allocated for integration courses across Germany in the wake of last year's arrivals of some one million refugees. Integration courses introduced in 2005 comprise German language training spread over 600 periods (each of 45 minutes in duration) plus 60 further periods so participants can learn about Germany's legal system, history, politics and culture. At the end of the course that normally runs over nine months, the participants undergo two tests - on language and knowledge about Germany. Those who qualify receive a certificate that can shorten from eight to seven years their waiting period before acquiring German citizenship.

One million people have gained German citizenship since 2000, becoming dual nationals. The data, gleaned by the opposition Greens, follows a Bavarian conservative demand that dual citizenship be abolished. The federal interior ministry statistics made public Wednesday by the Greens parliamentary group also showed that by 2013 half-a-million children whose both parents were resident foreigners had acquired German nationality on ... Read More »

Politicians blame Merkel’s refugee policy for defeat in regional elections

Chancellor Angela Merkel received heavy criticism from her opponents as well as from within her own ranks. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), came third place in state elections in her home state. The CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), blamed the chancellor and her open-door policy on refugees for the shocking result in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder said that receiving fewer than 20 percent of the overall vote in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania should serve as a "wake-up call" with regards to her refugee policy. Söder told the Monday morning edition of the regional daily newspaper "Nürnberger Nachrichten" that Merkel needed to adopt a hard line on migrants. "It is no longer possible to ignore people's views on this issue. Berlin needs to change tack," Söder said. Merkel's CDU lost a great number of votes to the newly established "Alternative for Germany" party (AfD), which managed to come second-place in the regional elections in the northeastern state. The Secretary-General of the CSU, Andreas Scheuer, also joined the ranks of those demanding a tougher stance on refugees. He told the daily newspaper "Berliner Tagesspiegel" that the federal government in Berlin now had to take some tough decision after the devastating result at the polls. "The CSU is pointing in the right direction. We need a cap on refugee numbers, expedited repatriation processes, an expansion of the list of nations deemed to be safe countries of origin, and better integration measures," he said, adding later that that the AfD had seized the opportunity to exploit Merkel's dwindling support. "We can't simply give in and watch how a party built on attracting protest voters profits from the failures of the federal government in Berlin." More criticism from within Merkel's own party Meanwhile, the joint CDU and CSU parliamentary spokesperson on domestic affairs, Stephan Mayer, told the "Huffington Post" that the election results amounted to "a catastrophe" that came as a reaction to Merkel's refugee policy. "There is actually a lot that the federal government has already done since 2015 in terms of changing its course with regards to its refugee policy, but this news has apparently not reached many eligible voters so far," Mayer said. In Berlin, CDU federal general secretary Peter Tauber - standing in for Merkel who is currently attending the G20 summit in China - said the result was "bitter" - while stressing that it would not influence the prospect of Merkel contesting a fourth federal term next year. Mixed results at the polls There were no winners and losers in absolute terms at the elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. However, the vote served as a litmus test on opinions on the government's current policy (especially on refugees) rather than only taking regional issues into account. In addition to Merkel's CDU's bad results of only 19 percent of the vote, her federal government coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), also suffered a major setback. While the center-left SPD managed to garner a better-than-forecast 30.6 percent in Sunday's election, it too lost several percents of its voter base to the AfD. The AfD had targeted Merkel's CDU and her coalition partner, the SPD, since her decision a year ago not to close Germany's border to refugees arriving from war zones such as Syria and Iraq via Hungary and Austria. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania as a reflection of German views Merkel's CDU and its lead candidate Lorenz Caffier, who has governed in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's capital Schwerin in coalition with the SPD for a decade, had visibly tried to distance himself from Merkel's policies ahead of the vote - publicly campaigning against contentious issues like allowing the wearing of burqas and dual citizenship. "The federal government must react," Caffier said, stressing that, constitutionally speaking, it was primarily responsible for Germany's borders and the intake of refugees. Caffier meanwhile also rejected calls for him to quit his regional party leadership. "I think at the moment I have no reason to do so," he said. "We got to witness a new set of circumstances in this election, whereby the positive developments in regional politics did not even begin to factor in with the people. Instead there was only one issue that mattered: refugees - despite the fact that they hardly play a role at all in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania." Current State Premier Erwin Sellering (SPD) said that the vote should how the public was "deeply worried," adding that refugee issues had played a "great role" in tempting voters to vote for the populist AfD movement. Sellering referred to the election as one of his party's hardest ever campaigns. AfD eyes 2017 election AfD veteran strategist and deputy chairman Alexander Gauland said Sunday's result had great symbolic power ahead of next year's federal election and would add impetus to Berlin city-state's election on September 18, 2016. Citizens no longer wanted Merkel's policies, Gauland claimed. Federal Greens co-leader Cem Özdemir meanwhile stressed on Germany's ZDF public television channel that all democratic parties had lost ground on Sunday, warning against simply putting the blame on Merkel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel received heavy criticism from her opponents as well as from within her own ranks. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), came third place in state elections in her home state. The CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), blamed the chancellor and her open-door policy on refugees for the shocking result in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. ... Read More »

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