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.


Afghan official: Taliban kill 7 police in eastern province

Updated 5 min 58 sec ago
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Afghan official: Taliban kill 7 police in eastern province

  • The attack took place the previous night in the district of Ghani Kahil
  • Five Taliban fighters were killed in the attack

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban stormed a police checkpoint in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province and killed seven policemen, a provincial official said Monday.
The attack took place the previous night in the district of Ghani Kahil, said the provincial police chief, Ghulam Sanayee Stanikzai. Five Taliban fighters were killed in the attack, he said.
Stanikzai also said that in Khogyani district, also in Nangarhar province, a government airstrike on Sunday night left 20 Taliban fighters dead.
There was no statement from the Taliban on either the Ghani Kahil attack or the airstrike.
Earlier on Sunday, a suicide bomber on foot struck outside the building of the Rural Rehabilitation and Development Ministry in the capital, Kabul, killing seven people and wounding 15.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement Monday on its Aamaq news agency, saying it targeted government employees and warning their attacks will reach “all who help the Crusaders,” a term militants use to refer to foreign forces.
Last month, a suicide bombing near the same ministry killed 12 people and wounded 31 others, mostly government employees.
On Monday, a would-be suicide attacker was shot and killed by police in Kabul before he was able to get close to a gathering of supporters of the country’s first vice president, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, according to police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai. Dostum is currently in Turkey.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but both Taliban and the Daesh group have stepped up their attacks in Kabul.