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
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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.


North Korea urges Trump to be ‘bold’ on denuclearization

Updated 18 August 2018
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North Korea urges Trump to be ‘bold’ on denuclearization

  • Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un held a groundbreaking summit in Singapore in June
  • North Korea has demanded that America agree to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War

SEOUL: North Korean state media blamed Donald Trump’s political opponents for the “deadlock” over denuclearization on Saturday, urging the US President to act boldly to make progress on the thorny issue.
Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un held a groundbreaking summit in Singapore in June, which the US leader touted as a historic breakthrough.
At the meeting the pair struck a vague agreement to denuclearise the Korean peninsula, but there has been little movement since.
Meanwhile the North has criticized Washington for its “gangster-like” and “unilateral” demands for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of Pyongyang’s atomic arsenal.
On Saturday Rodong Sinmun, the North’s most prominent daily, praised Trump for seeking to improve US-North Korea ties and achieve world peace, which it said would be the “feat of the century.”
“However, he faces too many opponents,” it said in a signed commentary.
The newspaper said Democrats and even some Republicans are hampering Trump’s efforts for their own partisan interests while media hostile to Trump are undermining his policies.
It accused bureaucrats and Trump’s aides of “speaking and moving in contradiction to the president’s will” and “distorting facts and covering up his eyes and ears in order to mislead him to a wrong decision.”
North Korea has demanded that America agree to declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, accusing the US of failing to reciprocate a series of its “goodwill measures.”
These include ending its nuclear and missile testing, the destruction of a nuclear testing site and handing over the remains of US troops killed in the Korean War.
When Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April for their first summit, they agreed to push for a declaration of an end to the Korean War this year.
But US officials insist denuclearization of the North should be realized before such an event takes place.
Trump’s political opponents are “raising their voice, dismissing the Singapore joint statement and boycotting a declaration of an end to the war,” Rodong Sinmun said.
“The current deadlock in the DPRK-US relations requires President Trump’s bold decision,” it added.
It also urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brush aside speculation from opponents over the North’s intentions.
Pompeo, who is preparing for his fourth visit to the North, said Thursday his team was “continuing to make progress” with the North, expressing hope that “we can make a big step here before too long.”