Hoping to win backing for German coalition, SPD boss drops foreign minister plan

Social Democratic Party boss Martin Schulz (File/AFP)
Updated 10 February 2018
0

Hoping to win backing for German coalition, SPD boss drops foreign minister plan

BERLIN: The leader of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), Martin Schulz, gave up plans on Friday to become the country’s next foreign minister, hoping to shore up support among his party’s members for a new ‘grand coalition’ with Angela Merkel's conservatives.
The SPD agreed on Wednesday to form a new government with the conservatives, more than four months after Germany’s election, but the SPD's 464,000 members could still scupper the deal in a ballot whose results will be announced on March 4.
Many grassroots members of the centre-left party are sceptical about another tie-up with the conservatives after serving in a similar coalition in 2013-17. The SPD then suffered its worst result of the postwar era in September’s election.
Schulz’s announcement on Wednesday that he would resign as SPD chairman to become foreign minister prompted strong criticism in the party as he had promised before the September election that he would not serve in a Merkel-led government.
Merkel, who will secure a fourth term as chancellor if the coalition deal holds, has also come under fire from some in her own camp who say she has made too many concessions to the SPD, including handing it control of the powerful finance ministry. The chancellor is desperate to get a government in place and end the months of political limbo that have hampered decision-making in Germany, Europe's largest economy, and caused concern among its partners in the European Union, which faces challenges from eurozone reform to Brexit.
Schulz, who originally strongly opposed another tie-up with the conservatives only to become one of its leading advocates, has lost political credibility but hopes his decision to step aside will now encourage SPD members to back the coalition deal.
A Forsa poll had shown almost three-quarters of Germans thought it would be wrong for Schulz to become foreign minister.
“I sincerely hope that this (decision) will end the personnel debates within the SPD,” Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, said in a statement.

Youthful discontent
Schulz will also step down as party leader, and his likely successor, Andrea Nahles, said the party would now focus on policy content ahead of the ballot.
Kevin Kuehnert, the leader of the SPD’s youth wing, had strongly criticised the focus on staffing over policy in recent days and said some of the top brass needed “to put their ego on the back burner” so members due to vote on the coalition could focus on evaluating the content of the agreement instead.
Kuehnert, 28, is travelling around the country urging members to vote against a ‘grand coalition.’ He told broadcaster SWR he expected a minority government to take charge in Germany, at least for a few months, if SPD members heeded his call.
The SPD and the conservative bloc both need to respect the clear message delivered by voters, Kuehnert said. Merkel’s conservatives also lost support in the September election which saw a far-right party enter parliament for the first time.
Discontent also simmered in the youth wing of the conservatives on Friday. Its leader, Paul Ziemiak, called for a broad discussion about the longer-term future of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
“We shouldn’t only talk about how we want to shape the next four years in Germany but also what the CDU will stand for in future, which topics we can win elections with in the next 10 years and people go along with topics,” he said.
Ziemiak said the CDU should also think about who would lead the party in the future.


No extra time: UK says Brexit transition will end in December 2020

Updated 17 min 36 sec ago
0

No extra time: UK says Brexit transition will end in December 2020

  • Britain will end its implementation period with the European Union after Brexit in December 2020
  • Northern Ireland will be Britain’s only land frontier with the European Union after Brexit

LONDON/DUBLIN: Britain will end its implementation period with the European Union after Brexit in December 2020, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday, denying a media report that the government was seeking a new transition until 2023.
The spokeswoman repeated Britain’s stance that the transition period would end in December 2020 after The Times newspaper reported that May would propose another transition covering customs and trade to run from 2021 until 2023 to avoid the need for infrastructure or checks on the Irish border.
Northern Ireland will be Britain’s only land frontier with the European Union after Brexit.
Both sides say they are committed to keeping the border with the Irish Republic open, but finding a practical solution has proved elusive so far.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who enjoys strong support from the other EU states, said Dublin could not agree to a time-limited solution.
“Well 2023 won’t do. The Irish government won’t be able to agree to a situation where we put off a fundamental decision like that,” Varadkar told Ireland’s Newstalk radio station.
The EU and Dublin insist the Brexit treaty must lock in a backstop arrangement in case a future trade pact does not remove the need for border controls. London signed up for this last month but disagrees with the EU’s means of achieving it.
Varadkar said: “The whole purpose of having the backstop is that that’s a guarantee that is there in perpetuity and just kicking the can down the road on the basis that maybe we can come up with some sort of legal or technological solutions that don’t exist now, that’s not something we could accept.”
The British government says it will soon propose an alternative backstop idea to the EU, which would see Britain applying the bloc’s external tariffs for a limited period beyond December 2020 if there is any delay on ratification or on introducing new customs arrangements.
May’s spokeswoman said the government intends to be ready with new customs arrangements by the end of the transition period, despite a parliamentary report also saying that Britain may have to stay in the customs union.
In Brussels, EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska urged London to give “at least some kind of predictability” for the period after it leaves the bloc next year.
“From the very beginning of these negotiations, it has been visible that it’s not the European Union that is delaying this process. We are quite well prepared for this,” she said. (Reporting by Elizabeth Piper in London, Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels. Editing by Stephen Addison)