Merkel’s deal with social democrats opens way to new German govt

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of Germany’s CDU party, with Horst Seehofer, leader of the CDU’s Bavarian CSU sister party, and Martin Schulz, leader of Germany’s social democratic SPD party, at Friday’s press conference in Berlin. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Merkel’s deal with social democrats opens way to new German govt

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel struck a deal with Social Democrat (SPD) rivals on Friday to open government coalition talks, easing months of uncertainty that has undermined Germany’s global role and raised questions about her political future.
But the deal to revive a “grand coalition” that has governed since 2013 must be approved by an SPD congress planned for Jan. 21. Some members fear further association with Merkel’s chancellorship could erode the influence of the party which suffered the worst result in September’s election since the modern Federal Republic was founded in 1949.
“We have felt since the elections that the world will not wait for us, and in particular ... we are convinced we need a new call for Europe,” Merkel, who has played a central role tackling crises over the euro and refugees, said after exploratory talks that had run through the night.
A 28-page blueprint pledged close co-operation with France to strengthen the euro zone.
The blueprint will form the basis for formal coalition talks if SPD members give the go-ahead, but it is open to revision.
Weakened by an election setback in September, Merkel turned to the left-leaning SPD to renew their grand coalition after the collapse in November of talks on a three-way coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP).
Germany is unfamiliar with the long negotiations that mark coalition building in many neighboring countries. The dominance of the SPD and the conservatives long ensured smooth government transition. But elections last September saw the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany which upset the arithmetic.
Merkel was eager to avoid any repeat election or attempt at a minority government.
“There will be difficult tasks to come,” Merkel said. “The coalition negotiations probably won’t be easier than the exploratory talks.”
Horst Seehofer, head of the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said a government could be in place by Easter — March or April.
As Europe’s largest economy and pre-eminent power broker, Germany is crucial to the region’s fortunes. Berlin’s partners are eagerly awaiting a new government to help drive forward Brexit talks, euro zone reform and EU diplomatic initiatives. France, which is pressing for a common euro zone budget to shield against external economic shocks, described the agreement as “important for the stability and future of Franco-German relations, but especially Europe.”
On the domestic front, the proposals reflected the strength of the economy. They foresaw tax relief for citizens of €10 billion ($12.2 billion) over the three years to 2021 as well as extra spending on home-building, education and research.
The Finance Ministry said Germany had posted a budget surplus of €5.3 billion last year, adding the next government would have €45 billion worth of financial “wiggle room” in the legislative period to 2021.
Officials said the surplus would be fed into a refugee reserve fund. More than a million migrants, many of them fleeing conflict in the Middle East, have arrived in Germany since mid-2015.
On foreign policy, the blueprint said the parties would introduce further limits on arms exports and immediately end arms sales to countries involved in the Yemen conflict.
They would also rein in progress in EU accession talks with Turkey, which has come under strong criticism in western Europe over President Recept Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown and widespread arrests following an attempted coup in 2016.
The euro climbed to a three-year high after news of the breakthrough in the talks. In early London trading, the euro rallied 0.7 percent against the dollar to hit its highest levels since January 2015 at $1.212.


“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.