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POLITICS

Wounded and weakened, Merkel starts coalition talks with awkward partners

Chancellor Angela Merkel, damaged by poor election results, will from Wednesday seek to forge an unlikely governing coalition from a motley crew of parties that span the political spectrum.

Wounded and weakened, Merkel starts coalition talks with awkward partners
Photo: DPA

Merkel's conservatives, who won a September 24th vote without a clear majority, will hold exploratory talks with the liberal and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) from 12pm  and then the left-leaning and environmentalist Greens from 4.30pm.

To avoid a breakdown that would force new elections, all sides will in coming weeks have to hammer out tough compromises on thorny topics from immigration to EU reform and climate policy.

If the initial talks Wednesday go well, all sides will meet jointly on Friday to launch negotiations that could form a government by perhaps January in the biggest EU economy.

READ MORE: These will be the likely conflict points in building a Jamaica coalition

The delicate negotiations come as Merkel, who has long ruled as a presidential-style chancellor, is increasingly described as a lame-duck leader in her final term, past the zenith of her power.

Critics are snapping at the heels of the veteran leader for delivering the worst poll result since 1949 for her Christian Democrats (CDU), followed by a state election loss last Sunday.

The usually pro-Merkel Bild daily condemned her insistence that she bore no blame for her party's defeat in Lower Saxony state, charging that she and her CDU “refuse to see what they've done wrong”.

“Up until two years ago Merkel appeared untouchable,” said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily.

“That aura of invincibility is now gone. Her power, too, is on the wane. If the CDU had any kind of challenger waiting in the wings, Merkel would have reason to worry.”

'Massive hurdles'

If trouble is brewing in Merkel's party, her more conservative Bavarian allies the CSU are in open disarray, fearing another poll drubbing in state elections next year.

Having long railed against Merkel's decision to allow in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, the CSU has signalled a sharp shift to the right to win back voters from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The CSU's Alexander Dobrindt said Sunday's Austria election win of right-wing candidate Sebastian Kurz showed that the CDU/CSU must “position ourselves as a conservative force in these negotiations”.

Such talk only heightens distrust with the Greens, a party that emerged out of the 1960s and 70s protest movement against the Vietnam war and nuclear weapons, and which favours a multicultural society that welcomes refugees.

Greens leader Jürgen Trittin pointed to growing right-wing populist tendencies in the CDU/CSU bloc and warned that their hardline demands on the refugee issue would present “massive hurdles”.

Dobrindt, for his part, days ago warned that his party would tolerate no leftist “nonsense” from the Greens.

'Power crumbling'

The other partner in the coalition talks, the FDP, are an easier fit, having previously served with the conservatives for lengthy stretches, until they humiliatingly crashed out of the Bundestag at the last election in 2013.

Its youthful leader Christian Lindner, who led the party back into the Bundestag, has presented his own tough demands as he eyes the powerful finance ministry.

On the eve of the talks, Lindner even cautioned Merkel to refrain from any bold moves at the EU level, especially if it cost German taxpayers, before a new government is formed.

“I expect that Merkel … makes it clear that her government is only performing a caretaker role,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“Germany is currently not in a position to take decisions.”

Given the competing interests, and weeks of haggling over posts and policy ahead, news site Spiegel Online predicted that “with a bit of luck, Germany may have a new government by January.”

“Germany is experiencing a strange phenomenon,” said the commentary.

“A new coalition is being negotiated by parties who don't really want it, while the aura and the power of the former and future Chancellor Angela Merkel is crumbling.”

CULTURE

Pay women footballers the same as men, says German chancellor

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday made a push for equal pay for men and women international footballers after Germany's successful run at the recent European Championships.

Pay women footballers the same as men, says German chancellor

“My position on this is clear,” Scholz said after a meeting with the German Football Association (DFB) to discuss the issue.

“We talked about how we can continue to help more girls and women get excited about football. Of course, the wages at such tournaments play a major role in this,” he said.

“That’s why it makes sense to discuss equal pay. I made the suggestion and I’m very grateful that there is a willingness to discuss this issue.”

Germany scored their biggest major tournament success since 2015 at this year’s European Championships, losing to England in the final at Wembley.

Scholz attended the final and also supported the women’s team by tweeting: “It’s 2022, and women and men should be paid equally. This also applies to sport, especially for national teams.”

READ ALSO: Scholz to cheer on Germany at Euro 2022 final

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) visits the DFP headquarters on Tuesday.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) visits the DFP (German Football Association) headquarters on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

Germany’s women would have received €60,000 each if they had triumphed at the tournament, while the men would have received €400,000 each had they prevailed at the Euros last year.

Bernd Neuendorf, president of the DFB, said he understood the argument “that equal work and success should also have the same value”.

“I’m willing to discuss in our committees whether our payment system is up to date or whether it should be adjusted,” he said.

Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg suggested that international footballers’ wages could be evened out by paying women more and men less.

Officials must now “follow up with action” after the meeting, she said in an interview with the ZDF broadcaster.

Scholz said he was “very, very proud” of the women’s performance at the Euros, even if “it didn’t quite work out”.

“I hope it will have a long-lasting effect, not only on the players themselves… but also on football in Germany,” he said.

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