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German conservatives openly at odds over who should succeed Merkel

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Germany’s ruling conservative parties disagreed publicly on Monday over who should be their candidate for chancellor in the 26 September federal election, exposing fears that they may lose power after 16 years in government under Angela Merkel, write Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel.

Merkel, of the Christian Democrats (CDU), is stepping down and pressure is mounting on the conservative bloc to agree a candidate to succeed her as its ratings wallow near a one-year low and some lawmakers worry for their jobs.

After months of speculation, the candidacy question came to a head on Sunday when Markus Soeder, Bavaria’s premier, put himself forward.

Soeder, the preferred candidate among German voters, won the unanimous backing of his Christian Social Union (CSU) on Monday.

But the CDU’s executive committee and federal board earlier backed party chairman Armin Laschet for chancellor candidate. CDU Secretary General Paul Ziemiak said Laschet enjoyed “broad support” in both conservative parties.

Laschet said there needed to be a decision “very soon”. But Soeder responded by calling for a few days of reflection and consultation before a decision is taken later this week.

“Anything else could lead to divisions,” Soeder added.

Laschet, 60, is a centrist widely seen as a candidate who would continue Merkel’s legacy, but he has clashed with her over coronavirus restrictions. Premier of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, his chaotic handling of the crisis has undermined his popularity.

Soeder, 54, is an astute political operator who has sided with Merkel during the pandemic. No CSU leader has ever become German chancellor.

German conservatives to settle chancellor candidate question this week- SoederGerman CSU group leader wants vote on bloc's chancellor candidate

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Laschet and Soeder both said they would speak on the matter, but the Bavarian wants to involve their wider parties, even if he said there was not enough time for a formal vote by members.

“It can’t be that a small committee - this also applies to us as the CSU - sits together and then says ‘now we decide’, and basta!” he told a news conference in Munich. “You have to think about it (in terms of the eventual election) result.”

“We cannot disconnect ourselves from a majority of the people in the country.”

A survey by pollster Forsa for broadcasters RTL/ntv showed that Soeder - with 36% support - is the most popular public figure for chancellor. Laschet languished on just 3% in the survey, which canvassed 2,024 voters on April 7-10.

Many conservatives are nervous about contesting the election without Merkel, who has led them to four victories. She has not publicly endorsed either candidate but has hinted that she would back the CDU leader.

The CDU/CSU alliance has slipped to about 27% in polls, just a few points ahead of the ecologist Greens, partly due to the impact of the pandemic. In the 2017 election, the alliance won almost 33%.

The Social Democrats, currently part of Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’, have nominated Finance Minister Olaf Scholz as their candidate for chancellor, while the Greens plan to announce their nomination on April 19.

A coalition government of the CDU/CSU alliance and Greens stacks up as the most likely scenario after the election.

“I want us to combine climate protection issues with economic issues,” Laschet said on Monday, in a nod to the Greens.

coronavirus

Police and protesters clash during May Day rallies in Berlin

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Police officers walk past a fire during a left-wing May Day demonstration, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
Police officers run past a fire during a left-wing May Day demonstration, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Berlin, Germany, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

Around 30,000 protesters took to the streets during May Day rallies in Berlin on Saturday (1 May), police said, adding nearly 100 officers were injured when some of the demonstrations turned violent.

Police made around 354 arrests during the demonstrations, which they said were for physical assaults and trespassing.

"The violent riots that occurred is something that I very much regret," Berlin's head of police Barbara Slowik told local broadcaster rbb24.

Some of the injuries occurred after some demonstrators threw fireworks, bottles and rocks during protests over social inequality. About 5,600 police were deployed, and some responded with pepper spray.

The demonstrations were the second May Day protests since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Turnout was much higher than last year, even though social distancing requirements remain in place.

Protests hit other European capitals too, most notably Paris, where police made 46 arrests as garbage bins were set on fire and the windows of a bank branch were smashed. read more

In Berlin, police used water cannon to extinguish fires as protesters set ablaze waste bins, barricades and cars.

Demonstrations also took place in several other German cities, including Hamburg and Leipzig, despite Europe's largest economy grappling with a third wave of the pandemic.

On Sunday, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 16,290 to 3,416,822. Read more

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coronavirus

German minister sees possible downward COVID-19 trend

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The number of German coronavirus infections seems to be turning down, Health Minister Jens Spahn (pictured) said on Thursday (29 April), but the decline is not yet enough to be sure the third wave of the pandemic has been broken. "The figures must not only stagnate, they must go down," Spahn told a news conference, noting that the faster vaccination campaign was helping but there were still too many people being treated in intensive care wards.

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EU

Recovery and Resilience Facility: Germany and Greece submit official recovery and resilience plans

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The Commission has received official recovery and resilience plans from Germany and Greece. These plans set out the reforms and public investment projects that each member state plans to implement with the support of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).

The RRF is the key instrument at the heart of NextGenerationEU, the EU's plan for emerging stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. It will provide up to €672.5 billion to support investments and reforms (in 2018 prices). This breaks down into grants worth a total of €312.5bn and €360bn in loans. The RRF will play a crucial role in helping Europe emerge stronger from the crisis, and securing the green and digital transitions.

The presentation of these plans follows intensive dialogue between the Commission and the national authorities of these member states over the past number of months.

The Commission will assess the plans within the next two months based on the eleven criteria set out in the Regulation and translate its content into legally binding acts.

The Commission has now received a total of three recovery and resilience plans, from Germany, Greece and Portugal. It will continue to engage intensively with the remaining member states to help them deliver high quality plans.

A press release and Q&A are available online.

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