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Bumps ahead for Merkel after ally loses shock vote

Angela Merkel faces a rocky political road ahead as she battles to hang on until 2021 as German chancellor, after her junior coalition partner SPD elected a left-leaning leadership duo.

Bumps ahead for Merkel after ally loses shock vote
Photo: AFP

Rank and file Social Democrats late Saturday delivered a humiliating blow to Finance Minister Olaf Scholz's run for co-chair of his centre-left party, picking instead two relative unknowns as their new leaders.

The shock result heralded a week of uncertainty for the coalition, with next Friday a key date as the SPD is to vote on whether to stay in government when it meets for its annual congress.

Merkel, in power for 14 years, has said she would step down when her term ends in 2021.

But her departure may well be accelerated following Saturday's stunning vote.

 'Unacceptable conditions?'

Wounded by an election rout in 2017, the SPD had initially sought to go into opposition, but allowed itself reluctantly to be coaxed into renewing an alliance with Merkel.

Many within the party however remained wary of continuing to govern in Merkel's shadow, fearful that their social roots were being eroded by the conservatives.

The uneasy marriage from the start had left the coalition lurching from crisis to crisis.

A new series of regional and European electoral defeats had finally forced the SPD to seek a new leadership.

Saturday's decision against Scholz is a “solid vote of no-confidence against the party establishment”, said left-leaning TAZ daily.

“Within the SPD, it is believed that an exit from the GroKo is very possible” with the new leaders Nobert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, added Bild daily, using the expression for the grand coalition.

Even if an immediate collapse of the government was averted, there is the “possible scenario that (the Social Democrats) would set unacceptable conditions to prepare an exit,” added the newspaper.

The SPD's new leaders have already said they will push Merkel's centre-right alliance for greater investment in climate protection.

They have also questioned the “black zero” no new debt policy — an absolute red line for Merkel and her centre-right alliance.

Merkel herself had just this week branded calls to relook the policy “absurd”.

Pointing to record levels in investments planned, she told parliament that “one cannot only find investments good when it brings about debt.”

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier on Sunday also heaped on warnings against touching the black zero.

In an interview with the financial daily Handelsblatt he said the promise of “no taking on new debt was one of the most important promises of the (CDU-CSU alliance) during the election campaign.”

And Holger Schmieding, chief economist at the Berenberg Bank said: “If the two parties cannot agree on the further tilt of German policies to the left which the SPD activists desire, the coalition would end.”

'Minority government?'

That would leave Merkel with the option of a minority government.

Merkel has repeatedly ruled this out, but right-leaning Die Welt daily noted that this time round, the conditions were “not so bad” since 2020's budget has already been decided.

Ministerial posts vacated by SPD ministers could then be taken up by her conservative alliance.

Her planned successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer could also assume the deputy chancellor role and potentially steer Germany as it takes on the presidency of the EU from next June, added Welt.

For now, party heavyweights on both sides have urged calm.

CDU general secretary Paul Ziemiak stressed that “nothing has changed” in terms of the coalition deal between both sides.

Leading voices in his party have also underlined the responsibility of keeping the government stable.

The SPD's former chief Martin Schulz meanwhile warned his party against flight from the government.

“My advice is that the cure is not to seek an escape from the government, rather it lies in the power to shape things in the government,” he told Tagesspiegel daily.

By Hui Min Neo

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TRAVEL NEWS

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin

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