Tag Archives: Merkel

Merkel unveils Roma Holocaust memorial

GlobalPost, October 24, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — Almost 70 years after the end of World War II, Germany has unveiled a memorial to the up to half-a-million Roma and related Sinti people murdered by the Nazis.

The memorial, a dark, circular pool of water with a triangular plinth in the center — where a fresh flower will be placed every day — stands in the capital’s Tiergarten park near the Reichstag.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck joined politicians and representatives of the Roma and Sinti communities, as well as 100 elderly Holocaust survivors for the unveiling ceremony.

“Every single fate in this genocide is a suffering beyond understanding,” Merkel said. “Every single fate fills me with sorrow and shame.”

However, representatives of the Roma and Sinti — a related people who live mostly in German-speaking Central Europe — say the memorial should also serve as a warning about ongoing discrimination across the continent today. Continue reading

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Another German minister caught in plagiarism scandal

GlobalPost, October 20, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — A close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s is under fierce pressure over claims she plagiarized her doctoral thesis more than 30 years ago.

Annette Schavan’s role as education minister, in which she oversees the country’s universities, makes the accusations especially damaging.

Opposition politicians have called on her to resign, saying her reputation is in tatters after the leaking of a report from the University of Duesseldorf appeared to back up the allegations.

“If the accusations prove correct, I have a hard time imagining how the minister in charge of science and research can credibly carry out her duties,” Green Party leader Claudia Roth said earlier this week.

Der Spiegel magazine reported that the university’s examination of Schavan’s thesis recommended stripping her of her PhD. But the university hasn’t made clear when it would make a decision, putting her in a difficult position for the foreseeable future. Continue reading

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Merkel challenger prepares for tough campaign

GlobalPost, October 19, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — When the collapse of Lehman Brothers threatened to set off a global depression in 2008, Peer Steinbrueck stood shoulder to shoulder with Chancellor Angela Merkel to steer his country through the financial crisis.

The economy performed remarkably well. Although its growth is slowing, Germany’s boom helped make Merkel hugely popular.

Now the former finance minister who was once her right-hand man has a new challenge: to unseat Merkel in an election next year.

Although he faces a tough campaign, he may have a shot. Even though the chancellor’s approval ratings remain high, the complexities of Germany’s political system mean there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to form a government in 2013.

A member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who was granted his ministerial post as part of a grand coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Steinbrueck has since emerged as someone who can pose Merkel a serious threat.

Many Germans see him as a safe pair of hands and a very competent crisis manager who helped overcome the financial crisis by introducing a stimulus package and recapitalizing banks. Continue reading

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Germany’s Social Democrats close gap on Angela Merkel with new leader

The Guardian, October 3, 2012

Germany‘s opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), has closed the gap on Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democrats following the selection of her former finance minister to lead their general election campaign next year.

Polls show that the choice of Peer Steinbrück as the SPD challenger last week has given the party a significant boost in its attempt to oust Merkel. The SPD is now enjoying its highest level of support in a year.

A Forsa survey shows that the SPD has gained three points from a week earlier to 29% after the selection of the feisty, plain-speaking 65-year-old. Merkel’s party dropped three points to 35%.

The combined support for the SPD and the party’s preferred partner, the Greens, is now 41%, marginally ahead of the 39% support for the ruling centre-right coalition.

The polls seem to vindicate the SPD’s choice of the man regarded as most capable of poaching centrist voters from Merkel’s party and its struggling coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). Continue reading

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Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande: Europe’s newest odd couple

GlobalPost, May 16, 2012

It started with a handshake, not a kiss. When Chancellor Angela Merkel and new French President Francois Hollande finally met in person on Tuesday evening, there was little of the warmth that marked her meetings with Nicolas Sarkozy in recent years.

Aides had downplayed the rendezvous as simply aimed at getting to know one another rather than about hammering out any policy. Yet the future of Europe could hinge on whether these two leaders find a way to work well together.

Rarely have two people met for the first time with so much baggage. Merkel refused to meet with Hollande during his election campaign, and made the highly unusual step of publicly backing his rival, fellow conservative Sarkozy. Hollande for his part seemed to be campaigning as much against Merkel as the incumbent, pledging to renegotiate the fiscal pact that she had championed.

Now the two have finally met face-to-face and the encounter seemed cordial if hardly warm. Following the ceremonial reviewing of the guard of honor – during which Merkel had to gently nudge Hollande in the right direction on the red carpet – the two held an hour -long meeting. They then addressed the throng of international journalists in a joint press conference during which Merkel remained stony-faced during much of Hollande’s comments, interspersed with the odd smile.

The pair did seek to downplay their differences and strike a friendly tone with Merkel even joking that the lightning that had struck Hollande’s plane on his way to Berlin was perhaps a “good omen.”

“I’m not sure whether there is sometimes more divergence perceived in the public realm than there really is,” the chancellor told the press conference. “We are aware of our responsibility, as Germany and France, for a positive development in Europe. Carried by this spirit I believe we will of course find solutions for the different problems.”

Both tried to show a united front on Greece, which risks ejection from the euro zone if it backs anti-austerity parties in the fresh elections likely after the parties failed to form a government. “Just like Frau Merkel,” Hollande said, he wanted Greece to remain in the euro zone while insisting that Athens meet the terms of the bailout agreement.

Yet when it came to the crux of the differences between the two, on austerity versus growth, it was obvious that the only thing that had been agreed so far was that they disagree.

After all, it remains to be seen how Merkel’s strict stance on rapidly reducing budget deficits can be married with Hollande’s plea for some kind of stimulus package to boost growth.

Hollande reiterated his promise to reopen talks about the fiscal pact, the agreement on strict budget discipline which he has said France will not ratify unless a growth element is also adopted.

“I said in the campaign, and I repeat today, that I want to renegotiate what was established at a certain moment,” Hollande told reporters. “Everything that can contribute to growth must be put on the table. I don’t want growth to be just a word, but tangible measures.”

He mentioned boosting competitiveness, as well as Euro bonds – essentially pooling the debt of euro zone members – something Merkel has so far flatly rejected.

He did not, however, mention tinkering with the European Central Bank’s mandate, surely a red line if ever there was one in Berlin.

For all the inauspicious beginnings, observers predict that the two will eventually hit it off. Both play on their modest, down- to-earth style and exude an air of pragmatism rather than charisma. Hollande depicts himself as “Mr Normal” in contrast to the Bling Bling of his predecessor Sarkozy, while the unassuming Merkel is often seen doing her own grocery shopping. And both are said to have a wry sense of humor in private.

Furthermore, Hollande’s gesture of appointing Germanophile Jean-Marc Ayrault as his prime minister will have gone down well in Berlin.

Yet, it is hardly a meeting of equals. Merkel is an old hand in European politics now, in her seventh year in office, while Hollande’s previous executive experience has been confined to serving as mayor of the small town of Tulle.

Furthermore Germany is the EU’s economic powerhouse, with its export-driven economy keeping the rest of the euro zone out of recession, according to figures released on Tuesday. And Berlin has long been calling the political shots in Europe, with the fiscal compact being dreamed up by Merkel, as a way of preventing EU states from getting into deeper debt in the future.

At the same time Merkel is increasingly isolated in Europe, as there is a growing realization that austerity is choking off growth. Hollande knows that other leaders, including conservatives like Italy’s Mario Monti, also want Berlin to budge on its debt reduction fixation.

Hollande came to Berlin straight from his inauguration ceremony in Paris. After beating Sarkozy on May 6 he will feel he has a mandate from the French people to push for a change of direction in Europe. Yet he also faces a tough economic situation back home, with just 0.1 percent growth in the first quarter and growing unemployment, now at a 13-year high of 10 percent. If the economy were to contract even further, it could make it very difficult to fulfill many of his campaign pledges, such as reversing Sarkozy’s pension reforms.

Merkel has her own problems, despite the strong economy. Her party, the conservative CDU, has just suffered a bruising defeat in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Her coalition is increasingly fractious, with Bavaria’s CSU leader Horst Seehofer publicly slamming the CDU candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia Norbert Roettgen on TV for his campaign, while the FDP is unpredictable due to an ongoing leadership crisis.

The fact that she needs a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag to ratify the fiscal compact means she is dependent on the opposition SPD. And while the party has broadly backed her euro policy, it has been emboldened by Hollande’s victory and the strong showing in NRW. On Tuesday the party’s leaders said that they would delay the vote on the fiscal pact, originally scheduled for late May, saying it wanted to see concrete growth measures as well as austerity.

That would leave time for Merkel and Hollande to agree to some sort of compromise solution.

The pair said they will seek an agreement ahead of the next big summit of EU leaders in June. “It will be very important that Germany and France present their ideas together at this summit, and we have talked about the preparation,” Merkel said.

They will see each other before that, meeting at an informal dinner of EU leaders on May 23, as well as at the forthcoming NATO and G8 summits.

However, Hollande is unlikely to show much willingness for compromise with Berlin just yet. After all his party is facing legislative elections in mid June and he will want to make sure he is not seen to be backsliding on campaign pledges.

Hollande wants his five-year term to start with his Socialist Party securing control of the National Assembly so that he can push through his agenda. Otherwise he faces a frustrating period of “cohabitation” with a prime minister from the opposing camp, such as occurred when conservative Jacques Chirac’s presidency coincided with the premiership of Socialist Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002.

As such Merkel cannot expect Hollande to veer from his insistence on growth measures. And for all his unassuming manner, he could well prove to be a more difficult partner than Sarkozy in the long run.

Nevertheless Merkel is also likely to stand firm on many issues. Asked on Tuesday night if she feared Hollande’s campaign promises she replied coolly: “I am seldom afraid, as fear is not a good counselor in politics.”

Originally published on GlobalPost:  http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120516/angela-merkel-and-francois-hollande-europe-s-newest-odd-couple

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Merkel is vulnerable after disastrous state election

GlobalPost, May 14, 2012

BERLIN – It is a paradox of German politics that Chancellor Angela Merkel remains overwhelming popular, while the parties that make up her governing coalition lurch from one defeat to the next in a string of regional votes.

That was made evident yet again on Sunday when her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered their worst ever result in Germany’s most populous state of North-Rhine Westphalia. The party only managed to get just over 26 percent of the vote in the snap election, shedding almost 9 points since securing 35 percent in the last vote there in 2010.

Her junior coalition partners the Free Democrats did manage an impressive comeback, securing a surprise 8 percent and managing to return to the state parliament thanks to its dynamic leader in the state, Christian Lindner. However, the disastrous performance by the CDU will allow the Social Democrats and Greens to form a stable coalition, after operating as a minority government for the past two years.

The SPD won 39 percent of the vote in what had been its traditional heartland, largely thanks to the huge popularity of its leading candidate, state governor Hannelore Kraft. The Greens only fell back slightly, down from 12 to 11 percent, a relief given the strong showing of the Pirates who stormed into their fourth regional parliament after securing almost 8 percent. The post-communist Left Party only attracted just over 2 percent, compared to over 5 percent in 2010, and thus failing to enter parliament.

North Rhine-Westphalia is often a strong indicator of the national mood. When former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suffered a defeat there in a state vote in 2005 he called an immediate snap general election, which paved the way for Merkel’s rise to power. Continue reading

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Merkel holds the line on austerity

GlobalPost, May 7, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — At times during the French election campaign, one would have been forgiven for thinking that Francois Hollande’s opponent was named Angela Merkel, not Nicolas Sarkozy.

Such was the importance of Germany, and of the Berlin-dictated policy of austerity, in the debate.

“Germany does not speak for Europe,” were his fighting words during the campaign to unseat one half of the duo known as Merkozy.

And you could say he was provoked. After all, Merkel had very publicly supported his opponent.

Sarkozy had become her dependable sidekick on EU matters, much to the infuriation of many of the two big countries’ EU partners. The German leader regarded the French conservative as the best guarantee that Berlin’s policy of reform and austerity would be pursued in dealing with the euro crisis.

But the French electorate had other ideas.

They voted for Hollande, one of whose central campaign pledges was a refusal to sign up to the Merkel-designed fiscal compact, unless there are elements of growth included.

In his campaign, he seemed to emerge as the champion for an alternative to the Merkel doctrine, which narrowly focused on belt-tightening and structural reform.

His victory puts Merkel in an awkward spot. Not only is she now going to have to deal with a French leader she very obviously snubbed — she refused to meet him during the campaign.

She is also going to be faced with a leader in Paris who has very different ideas about the best way to tackle the euro crisis. Continue reading

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