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Merkel's conservatives aim to modernize Germany 'through unity'

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Germany's CDU/CSU reject tax hikes and remain vague on climate change in their election platform. On foreign policy, they take a tough stance on Turkey and aim for trans-Atlantic unity on China.

Less than 100 days before Germany's voters head to the polls, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have finalized their election manifesto: 'The Program for Stability and Renewal —  Together for a Modern Germany.'

CDU leader and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet (pictured) and CSU chair Markus Söder presented the 139-page paper in a show of unity on Monday — just three months after a bitter fight for the position of conservative chancellor candidacy, which was ultimately handed to Laschet.

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"We consistently combine climate protection with economic strength and social security," Laschet said. "We provide security and cohesion in times of change."

In an apparent swipe at the Greens, who have slipped several percentage points in the polls in recent weeks, Söder insisted the CDU/CSU could "do climate policy without the Greens."

"We can do that ourselves," he said.

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The CDU and CSU, which are currently leading in the polls at about 28%, are the last major parties to present their manifesto for September's general election. Political observers were quick to point out that it caters to the CDU/CSU's elderly electorate, of which 40% are over the age of 60.

The conservatives' political opponents also quickly voiced criticism — particularly on the lack of climate protection policy and the financing of their election promises. Watch video 00:32

Foreign policy: The Union wants Germany, within the framework of the EU, NATO, the United Nations, and other organizations, to "actively contribute to international crisis management and to shaping world order." While China's desire for power must be countered with strength and unity, in close coordination with the transatlantic partners, close cooperation with China must still be sought, the Union says. With regards to Russia, the CDU/CSU say they will continue to strive towards an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and a return to the legitimate status of Crimea under international law. The Union's manifesto also rejects Turkey's possible accession into the European Union.

Migration: Migration should be limited and controlled effectively, the manifesto lays out. Beyond the existing regulations, no further family reunification should be granted to refugees. Rejected asylum seekers should be forced to leave the country, and collective deportations should be facilitated by "detention facilities" at airports.

Climate: The climate chapter in particular falls short on specific figures. The CDU and CSU say they're committed to Germany's goal of climate neutrality by 2045 — but that's already part of the outgoing coalition's Climate Protection Law. The manifesto remains vague on what that means for everyday life.  Instead, the two parties want to rely on expanded CO2 emissions trading, which they say is the ideal way forward with Germany's European neighbors. In addition to e-mobility, the Union says it also wants to rely on hybrid gases for road vehicles. A ban on diesel vehicles, however, is off the cards — as is a general speed limit on highways. It does mention, however, that more freight should be transported by rail and on inland waterways rather than roads.

Domestic security: The CDU and CSU want to take a hard stance when it comes to domestic security. The manifesto advocates more video surveillance in public spaces, automated face recognition, and the widespread use of body cameras. The state must take tough action against criminals, terrorists, and clans, the manifesto reads.

Social welfare and housing: Recent calls for an increase in the retirement age are not included in the program. However, the Union wants to examine the concept of a "generation fund" in which the state would put aside €100 a month for every newborn child until they turn 18. An alternative to the "Riester" private pension fund is also in the program. This would be supported by state subsidies and would be compulsory for low-wage earners. By 2025, the Union wants to build more than 1.5 million new apartments. It also foresees a federal construction program for employee housing and incentives for the construction of company housing.

Economy and taxes: Despite Germany's immense national debt, the Union wants to forego tax increases due to the corona pandemic. The manifesto doesn't mention any major tax relief for citizens. Meanwhile, the Union is setting its sights on capping corporation tax at 25%. The maximum wage for an income tax-free "mini-job" is to be increased from €450 ($535) to €550.

The CDU/CSU also insist that the EU's COVID-19 recovery fund remains "one-time and temporary," and that this should be "no entry into a debt union."

Space travel: The Union's program says space travel is a key industry from which medium-sized companies should also benefit. The conservatives plan to pass a space law that is start-up and SME-friendly. "We will work on an international level for the sustainable use of space in order to enable future generations to have access to space," the manifesto reads.

  • Annalena Baerbock, co-chair of Germany's Green party (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler) Annalena Baerbock (Greens) At the age of 40, Annalena Baerbock has been co-chair of the Greens since 2018. A jurist with a degree in public international law from the London School of Economics, her supporters see her as a safe pair of hands with a good grasp of detail. Her opponents point to her lack of governing experience.

The Greens and the Left Party were quick to criticize the CDU and CSU for not explaining how their election promises were to be funded.

Green party co-leader and chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock criticized the manifesto for a lack of vision.

"We have to invest courageously now. That costs money," she said, adding that climate protection must be the basis for economic activity.

Speaking to broadcaster RTL/ntv on Monday, Lars Klingbeil, General Secretary of the Social Democrats (SPD) — the conservatives' current coalition partner — deplored the direction of the manifesto.

"This is no longer Angela Merkel's Union, this shows that social coldness will move in with [CDU leader and chancellor candidate] Armin Laschet. And this is a program that will polarize this country," Klingbeil said.

European elections

Germany’s far-left party eager to join coalition while others steer clear

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Co-leader of the Left Party Susanne Hennig-Wellsow speaks at a press conference during a convent of Germany's left party 'Die Linke' in Berlin. Copyright  Credit: AP

While Angela Merkel (pictured) avoided political campaigning for much of the election, as it became increasingly clear that her party was trailing in the polls, she went after her centre-left deputy with an old attack line, writes Lauren Chadwick

“With me as Chancellor, there would never be a coalition in which the Left is involved. And whether this is shared by Olaf Scholz or not remains to be seen,” Merkel said in late August.

Scholz also had criticism for Die Linke -- the Left Party -- but stopped short of completely rejecting the possibility of a coalition with them. He told German daily Tagesspiegel the far-left party would be required to commit to NATO and the transatlantic partnershipIt’s now been a constant attack line from the Christian Democrats in what some say is a last-ditch effort to grab moderates on the fence between Merkel’s centre-right party and the centre-left Social Democrats, who are leading in the polls.

Voters see “behind” the attack line from the CDU, said Dr Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck at the University of Mannheim, as it is “so old hat".about:blank

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Schmitt-Beck added it was a “sign of desperation” the CDU was resorting to this attack line once again as candidate Armin Laschet has failed to galvanise voters, polls show.

A possible governing coalition?

Although experts say a coalition involving the far-left Die Linke is not what Social Democratic leader Scholz wants, he is not likely to completely rule out the possibility.

That’s because if current polling is correct, the future government coalition in Germany will need to be formed with three political parties for the first time, meaning the Left Party has never been closer to receiving a possible spot in a coalition.

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The party is currently polling at around 6% nationally, making them the sixth most popular political party in the country.

Die Linke party co-leader Susanne Hennig-Wellsow even told German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in early September: “The window was as wide open as ever before. When if not now?” in regards to a possible coalition with the Social Democrats and Greens.

Many saw her words as demonstrating the party’s high hopes and preparations for entering government.

But while the current Left Party has become more mainstream since it was officially formed in 2007 - its direct historical ties to communism and hard-left foreign policy might forever keep it out of government.

Communist history and hard-line views

Die Linke was formed as a merger of two parties: the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) and a newer Labour and Social Justice party. The PDS is the direct successor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, the communist party that ruled in East Germany from 1946 to 1989.

“There are many people in Germany who see this legacy as a big problem," said Dr Thorsten Holzhauser, research associate at the Theodor Heuss House Foundation in Stuttgart.

"On the other hand, the party has been de-radicalising for a couple of years or even decades now. It's shifted towards a more left-wing social democratic profile in the last years, which is also something that many people have recognised."

But Die Linke is quite polarised internally with more moderate politics in East Germany and more radical voices in some West German regions.

While a younger generation of voters is more connected to the social justice issues and hot political topics such as the climate, feminism, anti-racism and migration, other parts of the party appeal more to populism and compete with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), experts say.

The party currently has one state minister-president: Bodo Ramelow in Thuringia.

But some of the party’s hard-line foreign policy views make it an unlikely choice for a governing partner.

“The party always said that it wants to get rid of NATO, and it is a party that stems from East Germany, from a very pro-Russian political culture, a very anti-Western political culture, so this is in the DNA of the party,” says Holzhauser.

Die Linke wants Germany out of NATO and no foreign deployment of Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr.

“We will not participate in a government that wages wars and permits combat missions by the Bundeswehr abroad, that promotes armament and militarisation. In the long term, we are sticking to the vision of a world without armies,” the platform reads.

Die Linke also rejects treating Russia and China as “enemies” and wants closer relations with both countries.

‘Unlikely’ to join a coalition

“There is a chance. It's not a very big chance, but there is a chance (Die Linke could join a coalition)," says Holzhauser, yet traditionally the “scare tactics by Conservatives have been very strong at mobilising against a left-wing alliance”.

Die Linke, which used to poll ahead of the Greens and Alternative for Germany (AfD) could have a problem garnering support in the future, he said, as it becomes less of a populist party and more establishment.

“While in the past, Die Linke has been quite successful as a somewhat populist force that mobilised against the West German political establishment, nowadays, the party is more and more part of the establishment,” says Holzhauser.https://www.euronews.com/embed/1660084

“For many voters, especially in East Germany, it has successfully integrated into the German party system. So this is the flip side of the coin of its own success, that it is getting more integrated and established but at the same time it loses attraction as a populist force.”

On social issues, it's more likely to have similar demands to the Greens and Social Democrats, however, including a wealth tax and higher minimum wage. They are platform ideas that haven't come to fruition in the current SPD/CDU coalition.

But whether that means they will enter government remains to be seen, despite the perceived high hopes of the party's leaders.

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European elections

German conservatives raise spectre of far-left rule ahead of election

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Gregor Gysi of the left wing party Die Linke speaks during an election campaign rally in Munich, Germany, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo
Germany's co-leader of the left wing party Die Linke Janine Wissler, top candidate for the September general election, campaigns in Munich, Germany, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

A shadow is looming over Germany's election: the spectre of the far-left Linke party, heir to the communists who once ruled East Germany, coming in from the political wilderness, write Paul Carrel and Thomas Escritt.

At least, that is what Angela Merkel's conservatives want voters to think. Behind in polls just days before Sunday's (26 September) vote, her would-be successor is warning that Social Democrats, if victorious, would let the far-left into power. Read more.

"You have to have a clear position on the extremists," conservative candidate Armin Laschet told his Social Democratic rival Olaf Scholz during a televised debate earlier this month. "I don't understand why it's so hard for you to say 'I won't enter a coalition with this party'."

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For the conservatives, the Linke are just as unpalatable as the far-right Alternative for Germany, whom all major parties have pledged to keep out of government. Read more.

Scholz has made it clear that the Greens are his preferred partners, but the conservatives say he will need a third party to form a coalition government. And they say the Social Democrats are closer to the Linke on social policies than to the pro-business Free Democrats - the conservatives' preferred dance partner.

Few expect this to happen - the Linke are on just 6% in polls, half the liberals' 11%, which probably would not be enough to give Scholz the required parliamentary majority.

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But for some investors, it is a risk that should not be overlooked.

"Inclusion of the Linke in a governing coalition would, in our minds, represent the single biggest wild card by far for financial markets from the German elections," said Sassan Ghahramani, chief executive of U.S.-based SGH Macro Advisors, which advises hedge funds.

Linke policies such as a rent cap and property taxes for millionaires would be enough to spook many in Germany's business class.

Most assume that a victorious Scholz - a strait-laced finance minister and a former mayor of Hamburg - would include the Free Democrats as a moderating influence in his coalition.

Both SPD and Greens have also ruled out working with any party refusing to commit to the NATO military alliance or Germany's European Union membership, both of which the Linke has called into question.

READY FOR GOVERNMENT?

Undeterred, the leftists are pitching themselves as ready for government responsibility three decades after East Germany vanished from the map.

"We're already in NATO," party co-leader Dietmar Bartsch told a recent news conference, dodging questions over whether its foreign policy views would keep it from entering government.

Bartsch, 63, whose political career started when he joined East Germany's Socialist Unity Party in 1977, leads the Linke alongside Janine Wissler, 40, a westerner who hails from a town just outside Germany's financial capital Frankfurt.

If foreign policy is an obstacle, the party prefers to talk economics. Here it is not far from the Social Democrats or Greens and Bartsch says once in government the party would make sure its partners delivered on campaign promises, such as the SPD's proposed 12 euro hourly minimum wage.

The party has outgrown its East German base, establishing strongholds in poorer, post-industrial cities in western Germany.

It heads the government in the eastern state of Thuringia, and is the junior partner with the SPD and Greens in Berlin's city government.

Analysts say that, as a centrist, Scholz would be more comfortable with the Free Democrats, but will not rule out the Linke to keep leverage over the liberals, keen to play kingmakers in coalition talks.

The Social Democrats' lead in the polls also suggests the left's communist roots carry less weight with voters than in the past. Greens leader Annalena Baerbock said it was just wrong to say they were just as bad as the far-right because the latter did not respect Germany's democratic norms.

"I consider this equation of the AfD with the Left to be extremely dangerous, especially because it absolutely trivialises the fact that the AfD is not aligned with the constitution," Baerbock said in a television debate this month.

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European elections

German would-be kingmaker sees legal cannabis but little else with SPD/Greens alliance

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A placard of Christian Lindner, top candidate of the Free Democratic Party FDP is placed on a board for the September 26 German general elections in Bonn, Germany, September 20, 2021. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Legalizing cannabis is about the only thing Germany's Free Democrats (FDP) could easily agree with the centre-left Social Democrats and Greens, the FDP leader has said, sounding cool on the possibility of forming a so-called "traffic light" coalition, writes Paul Carrel, Reuters.

Christian Lindner wants his business-friendly FDP to be kingmakers after Germany's national election on Sunday, at which the future course of Europe's largest economy is at stake after 16 years of steady, centre-right leadership under Angela Merkel.

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In power since 2005, she plans to step down after the vote.

Opinion polls show a coalition of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens with the FDP, dubbed a traffic light alliance due to their party colours of red, green and yellow, is a real arithmetical possibility after the election.

But when asked by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper in an interview what could be easier for the FDP to achieve with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens than with Merkel's conservatives, to whom he is closer, Lindner simply replied:

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"The legalization of cannabis."

Asked to name any other issues, he responded: "I can't think of many right now."

Lindner, whose party believes in tax cuts and legalizing cannabis, said he was unsure what the Social Democrat's chancellor candidate, Olaf Scholz, stood for.

"I'm not sure what his own political position is," he said.

Scholz's SPD saw its lead over Merkel's conservatives narrow in a poll published on Tuesday (21 September), pointing to a tightening race just five days before the election.

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