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2013 IN REVIEW

POLITICS

The Local’s top ten politics stories of 2013

The election year brought a bumper crop of politics stories, but issues outside of election wrangling including cyber-spying, drone building and a trial also appear in The Local's pick of 2013's political stories.

The Local's top ten politics stories of 2013
An FDP election poster is scrubbed off a billboard - the Free Democrats were ejected from parliament this year. Photo: DPA

Schavan resigns amid plagiarism affair

Angela Merkel's government took some flak in February when education minister Annette Schavan was stripped of her doctorate for plagiarizing part of her thesis. Schavan, who had been one of Merkel's closer allies in government, was the second cabinet member to be pushed out of office after being found to have plagiarized part of their degree. Ex-defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg suffered the same fate back in 2011.

Merkel ally faces heat for drone 'debacle'

Defence minister and close CDU colleague of Merkel, Thomas de Maizière was faced widespread criticism in June for failing to act earlier on a drone-building project which had to be scrapped at the last minute at a cost of over €500 million. The minister had often been tipped as a successor to the Chancellor, but most saw the drone "debacle" as scuppering his chances.

Merkel hails 'superb' election result

On September 22nd, it was Angela Merkel's Christian Union bloc which came out celebrating, and a triumphant yet characteristically sober Merkel thanked voters for putting her back in office for a third term. Whilst they finished shy of an absolute majority, the chancellor's party came out firmly on top – but their Free Democratic Party (FDP) allies were swept out of parliament.

Liberal leader quits after poor poll showing

The biggest losers in 2013's general election were the business-friendly FDP, who for the first time since 1949 won less than five percent of the vote and were thus unable to claim any seats in parliament. Since their disastrous election performance, most of the party's senior officials, including leader Philipp Rösler, have quit.

Far-left becomes third-biggest party

The socialists, Die Linke, rivalled the victorious CDU in their election-night jubilation as the left-wing party celebrated both the demise of their economic enemies the pro-business FDP and their own victory over the environmentalist Greens to become Germany's third-largest party. Both the centre-left SPD and Greens have described Die Linke as too extreme to cooperate with in government. But with the black-red (CDU and SPD) "grand coalition" set to lead Germany for the next four years, Gregor Gysi's socialist faction will be the country's main opposition party.

Germany believes US tapped Merkel's phone

The growing global controversy over cyber-surveillance projects by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other national intelligence agencies came to a head in Germany when it emerged in late October the NSA had tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The development led to dramatic scenes in the capital, with Merkel summoning the US ambassador as well as giving President Obama a dressing down. Later allegations surfaced that the US embassy housed a "spy station" from which it monitored the German government as well as other embassies.

Ex-president's 'favours' trial begins

November saw the beginning of ex-President Christian Wulff's trial. The 54-year-old stepped down as Germany's head of state last February, bowing to public pressure on him to resign after revelations about alleged misuse of his position for favours. Since Wulff was Angela Merkel's own golden boy and an unorthodox candidate, his troubled presidency and dishonourable discharge were expected to reflect badly on the Chancellor – but if they did, it was not enough to derail Merkel's re-election.

President boycotts Russia winter Olympics

In December President Joachim Gauck announced he would not be attending the winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia next February. Gauck, who had previously criticized the Russian government on several occasions, is presumed to have boycotted the games as a statement against the country's highly controversial law banning "pro-homosexual propaganda."

Merkel and SPD hail 'grand coalition' deal

After weeks of deliberation, with scheduled talks coming and going without agreement and speculation that Merkel's CDU could go in for an unprecedented coalition with the Greens, the agreement for a "grand coalition" between Union and SPD was finally signed on November 27th. But SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel still faced with the challenge of getting his own party to green-light the contract of compromises which would bring them into government.

Meet Merkel's new 'super cabinet'

Sunday December 15th brought news that, with the SPD party vote confirming the leaders' coalition plans, the line-up for Merkel's new "super-cabinet" could finally be unveiled. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel was named vice-chancellor and CDU heavyweight Wolfgang Schäuble stayed put as finance minister. But there were a few surprises as Germany's two opposing main parties prepare to govern together for the first time since 2009.

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TRANSPORT

How the Greens want to replace Germany’s €9 ticket deal

New proposals drafted by the Green Party have set out plans for two new cheap travel tickets in Germany as well as a shake-up of the country's travel zones. Here's what you need to know.

How the Greens want to replace Germany's €9 ticket deal

What’s going on?

Germany’s €9 travel deal has been hugely popular this summer, with an estimated 30 million or so passengers taking advantage of the offer in June alone. Now the last month of the three-month offer is underway, there are hopes that the ticket could be replaced by another deal that offers simple, affordable travel on a regional or national basis.

There have been a few ideas for this floating around, including a €365 annual ticket and a €69 monthly ticket pitched by German transport operators. Now the Green Party has weighed in with a concept paper setting out plans for two separate travel tickets to replace the €9 ticket. The paper was obtained by ARD Hauptstadtstudio on Friday. 

Why do they want two different tickets?

The first ticket would be a regional one costing just €29 a month and the second would be a €49 that, much like the €9 ticket, would be valid for the whole of Germany.

This would allow people who mainly stay in their local region to opt for the most cost-effective option while long-distance commuters or those who want to travel further afield could opt for the nationwide offer.

Presumably the ticket would once again be valid for local and regional transport only rather than long-distance trains like the ICE. 

To simplify the system even more, the Greens also want to introduce new travel zones for the regional monthly tickets.

READ ALSO: Has Germany’s €9 rail ticket been a success?

How would the travel zones change?

According to the paper, Germany would be divided into eight regional zones that would include the Berlin-Brandenburg area, the eastern German states of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the northern states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. 

The zones take passengers “statewide at a minimum”, the paper says, for example in the larger states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and North-Rhine Westphalia.

However, as the map below shows, states will also be clustered together to make larger regions.

One of the major draws of the €9 ticket has been the flat-rate system that allows passengers to travel anywhere in the country using the same ticket. This appears to be what the Greens are trying to replicate with their proposals. 

READ ALSO: What happens to Germany’s €9 ticket at the end of August?

How would this be financed? 

As you might expect, the Green Party is placing less eco-friendly forms of transport in the crosshairs as it looks for cash to fund the cheap tickets.

The first way to free up cash would be to end tax breaks for people with company cars. In addition, taxes on CO2 emissions would be increased. 

This would result in “additional revenues for the federal government and the states, which could flow seamlessly into the financing of cheap tickets”, the paper states. 

However, the Greens don’t set out how much money they think this would bring in or how much the discounted tickets would cost the state in total. 

Is this definitely going to happen?

At the moment, it seems that the Greens are the main voices in the coalition government pushing for a longer term travel deal – and they continue to face opposition from the pro-business FDP.

Unfortunately for the Green Party, the FDP happen to be heading up two crucial ministries that could both play a role in blocking a future offer: the Finance Ministry and the Transport Ministry. 

However, with four out of five people saying they want to see a successor to the €9 ticket in autumn, Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) is currently under pressure to come up with a replacement as soon as possible. 

A passenger sits on the platform a Berlin Hauptbahnhof

A passenger sits on the platform a Berlin Hauptbahnhof waiting for a train. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Joerg Carstensen

At a press conference a few weeks ago, he promised to discuss this with the state transport ministers after analysing how successful the ticket had been.

In particular, researchers will want to look at how many people ended up leaving the car at home and taking the bus or train instead.

Though the data on this is inconclusive at the moment, some studies have shown reduced congestion on the roads while the ticket was running.

In a survey of The Local’s readers conducted last month, 80 percent of respondents said they had used public transport more with the €9 ticket and 85 percent said they wanted to see a similar deal continue in the autumn.

Of the options on the table so far, a monthly €29 ticket was by far the most popular choice.

READ ALSO: ‘Affordable and simple’: What foreigners in Germany want to see after the €9 ticket

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