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POLITICS

These are the thorniest issues in Germany’s coalition talks

A bid by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives to renew an alliance with Germany's second biggest party, the Social Democrats, is complicated by several hot button topics.

These are the thorniest issues in Germany’s coalition talks
A boy waves a flag in front of the German embassy in Athens during a protest over family reunification. Photo: DPA

Here are some of the hurdles that the two sides will have to overcome before advancing to formal coalition negotiations towards a government by spring.

Refugees

September's elections which left Merkel without a majority and the SPD with a record low score, saw a surge in support for the far-right AfD.

The upstart anti-immigration party had capitalised on misgivings about the huge influx of more than a million asylum seekers who have arrived since 2015.

Anxious to stem the haemorrhage of support to the far right, the conservative wing of Merkel's CDU as well as her Bavarian alllies the CSU are keen to cut back on arrivals.

The conservatives in particular want to extend a halt on family reunions for asylum seekers granted temporary refuge.

But during its electoral campaign, the SPD had promised to lift the suspension on family reunifications — which is due to expire at the end of March.

“We are talking about less than 70,000 people,” said SPD chief Martin Schulz.

But the CSU in particular is wary about compromising on the issue as it is anxious to keep the AfD at bay in Bavaria where key regional elections will be held this autumn.

Europe

All three parties are pro-European and in favour of reforming the bloc but divided about how, especially when it comes to paying for it.

The Social Democrats back French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal of a European budget for common investments in the region.

But Merkel's party is sceptical, seeing it as a pooling of member states' debts or the transfer of German cash to troubled economies.

French proposals for a eurozone finance minister have been positively received all round, but the sides have differing views on the role such a regional minister would play.

The SPD believes the minister should work to end fiscal competition among member states, while the conservatives want someone who will police member states' debt levels – a task now performed by the European Commission, which is perceived as too lax by some.

Finance

The Social Democrats, who had campaigned for greater social justice, need to extract some key concessions on welfare if they are to get any deal with the conservatives approved by party rank and file.

The centre-left party is pushing for more spending on education, social housing, infrastructure and health.

And to fund that, it wants the top tax rate to be raised to 45 percent from the current 42 percent.

It wants to gradually phase out a solidarity tax – to help the former communist east catch up with the west – starting first with the lower and middle classes.

The conservatives baulk at tax hikes. Instead, they want lower taxes and for the solidarity tax to be scrapped across the board.

They also want funding increased for defence, something that the SPD opposes.

Further, the SPD wants to create a new universal medical insurance, an idea that has not found favour with Merkel.

POLITICS

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has sued the German parliament for removing some of his official post-retirement perks over his links to Russian energy giants, his lawyer said Friday.

Ex-chancellor Schröder sues German Bundestag for removing perks

Schröder, 78, has come under heavy criticism for his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin and involvement with state-backed energy companies.

The decision to suspend Schröder’s taxpayer-funded office and staff in May was “contrary to the rule of law”, Michael Nagel, told public broadcaster NDR.

Schröder “heard of everything through the media”, Nagel said, noting that the Social Democrat had asked for a hearing before the budget committee responsible but was not given the chance to express himself.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over Russia ties

Schröder’s lawyers filed the complaint with an administrative Berlin court, a spokesman for the court confirmed.

In its decision to strip him of the perks, the committee concluded that Schröder, who served as chancellor from 1998 to 2005, “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office”.

Most of Schröder’s office staff had already quit before the final ruling was made.

Despite resigning from the board of Russian oil company Rosneft and turning down a post on the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in May, Schröder has maintained close ties with the Kremlin.

The former chancellor met Putin in July, after which he said Moscow was ready for a “negotiated solution” to the war in Ukraine — comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Last week, the Social Democrats concluded that Schröder would be allowed to remain a member after he was found not have breached party rules over his ties to the Russian President.

Schröder’s stance on the war and solo diplomacy has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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