Germany's SPD to decide on talks for new Merkel govt

Leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Martin Schulz, delivers a speech at a party congress of Germany's Social Democrats in Berlin on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Germany's SPD to decide on talks for new Merkel govt

BERLIN: Germany's centre-left Social Democrats meet from Thursday to decide whether to help Chancellor Angela Merkel end a months-long political stalemate in Europe's biggest economy.
Party chief Martin Schulz will ask the deeply divided SPD to give him the green light for exploratory talks on joining Merkel in another coalition government starting in early 2018.
Another option for Germany's second-biggest party would be to allow Merkel to run a minority government -- though she has so far rejected this as inherently unstable.
For Schulz, a willingness to sound out a power pact with Merkel represents a U-turn after he repeatedly vowed to go into opposition following his party's dismal showing in the Sept. 24 elections.
Schulz, a former European Parliament president, relented after Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed two weeks ago, sparking political uncertainty and raising the unpopular spectre of new elections.
At the three-day SPD congress in Berlin, he will face fierce opposition, especially from the party's youth wing, which bitterly rejects the humiliating option of the SPD again playing second fiddle in a so-called grand coalition.
There will be "disputes and fights", acknowledged Schulz, who is due to stand for re-election as party chief.
But his political future is also at play, with senior SPD member Carsten Schneider warning that if Schulz fails to convince the party to adopt his strategy, then he would "also no longer need to stand for the leadership of the party".
Michael Broening of the SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation said the Social Democrats "once again find themselves in a Catch-22 situation".
"The party fears new elections, loathes another grand coalition, but still does not want to be seen as obstructionist naysayers shying away from civic responsibility," Broening said.
"That is why their preferred option would be to tolerate a minority government. However, this enthusiasm is neither shared by chancellor Merkel nor the wider German public."
Given the rocky path ahead, Germany is "unlikely to have a new government before spring", predicted the SPD's Olaf Scholz, mayor of the northern city-state of Hamburg.
Schulz — the election loser turned potential kingmaker — has said he is in no rush to reach a deal, and that "for us, nothing is predetermined, nothing is automatic".
He has vowed to extract maximum concessions for his over 150-year-old labour party, including social welfare gains and steps toward greater "solidarity" in Europe.
The SPD broadly supports French President Emmanuel Macron's sweeping vision for EU reform as well as a departure from Berlin's insistence on austerity in crisis-hit economies.
Schulz has said he wants Berlin to assume "a progressive, a more social, a more dynamic policy".
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, another SPD veteran, has also spoken out in favour of EU reform plans such as greater eurozone investment, a common finance minister and the creation of a European Monetary Fund.
Germany had to consider the proposals from a broader perspective than how much they would cost, Gabriel told news weekly Der Spiegel, warning that inaction would be "naive and dangerous for the European project".
Schulz became the SPD's top candidate a year ago when he won 100 percent party support in January and saw SPD poll ratings briefly shoot up some 10 percentage points.
But he met the fate of Merkel's previous challengers, with a campaign -- built on fighting social inequality -- losing steam amid a string of regional poll defeats.
In the September general election, in which the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) protest party siphoned millions of votes from all mainstream parties, the SPD scored just under 21 percent, its worst showing since World War II.
Most members felt that the past four years — in which the SPD was Merkel's junior partner in the unhappy "grand coalition" — had badly wounded party support and morale.
Thousands of members had already defected from the historical working-class champions when former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder slashed back the welfare state in the early 2000s.
Whatever the outcome of any eventual talks with Merkel, it will have to satisfy the SPD party base, because members will ultimately vote to approve or scrap any coalition agreement.


“No-deal” Brexit would hit trucks, airlines and pet owners — govt papers

Updated 24 September 2018
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“No-deal” Brexit would hit trucks, airlines and pet owners — govt papers

LONDON: Leaving the European Union without a proper divorce deal could ground airlines, stop hauliers from lugging goods to the world’s biggest trading bloc and even make headaches for pet owners who want to take their dogs on holiday, according to government documents.
With just six months to go until the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that negotiations are at an impasse and that the EU must come up with new proposals on how to craft a divorce settlement.
Many business chiefs and investors fear politics could scupper an agreement, thrusting the world’s fifth largest economy into a “no-deal” Brexit that they say would spook financial markets and silt up the arteries of trade.
Britain, which has warned it could leave without a deal, published 25 technical notices on Monday covering everything from commercial road haulage and buying timber to airline regulations and taking pets abroad.
“If the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no agreement in place, UK and EU licensed airlines would lose the automatic right to operate air services between the UK and the EU without seeking advance permission,” the government said.
Overall, the government has published more than 65 such notices giving a glimpse of what a no-deal Brexit — the nightmare scenario for chief executives of most multinationals operating in Britain — would look like.
Amid warnings that trucks could stack up on both sides of the English Channel in the confusion of a no deal, Britain said it would seek to strike bilateral agreements with European countries to ensure hauliers would retain access.
The notices covered a vast swathe of the British economy, warning, for example, that labels on packaged food would have to be changed.
“Use of the term ‘EU’ in origin labelling would no longer be correct for food or ingredients from the UK,” the government said.
Honey producers would have to change their labels while EU countries might not accept British mineral water, the government said.
In the worse case scenario for pet owners, dogs, cats and even ferrets might need health certificates and rabies jabs. Travel plans would have to be discussed with a vet at least four months in advance before traveling to the EU.
That would mean someone wanting to take their pet to the EU on March 30, 2019, the day after Britain leaves the bloc, would have to discuss the trip with a vet before the end of November.
Without a deal, the UK would move from seamless trade with the rest of the EU to customs arrangements set by the World Trade Organization for external states with no preferential deals.
Brexiteers accept there is likely to be some short-term economic pain but say the government is trying to scare voters about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
Britain, many Brexiteers say, will thrive in the longer term if cut loose from what they see as a doomed experiment in German-dominated unity and excessive debt-funded welfare spending.