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German election 2021: Merkel backs Laschet as CDU lags behind in polls

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday lauded her party's candidate Armin Laschet as the best choice to succeed her, as polls showed the gaffe-prone Rhinelander still trailing badly ahead of this month's election.

German election 2021: Merkel backs Laschet as CDU lags behind in polls
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Laschet, the chancellor candidate for Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc, was long the favourite to be the next German leader, but his ratings have plummeted following a series of missteps.

The frontrunner is now vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, whose centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) are enjoying a late spurt in the final weeks before the September 26th vote.

“It is a special election, not only because no incumbent chancellor is running for re-election for the first time since 1949,” the outgoing Merkel said in what was likely her last speech in parliament ahead of the vote.

“It is also a special election because it is a decision on the direction of our country in difficult times – and it is not irrelevant who governs this country,” she said.

Merkel warned against a coalition with the SPD and the Greens that “accepts” or at least does not rule out working with the Left Party (Die Linke).  

“The best way for our country is a CDU/CSU-led federal government with Armin Laschet as chancellor, because his government would stand for stability, reliability, moderation and centrism,” she said. 

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The outgoing Chancellor said it’s also about “tangible economic and tax policy decisions that will determine the future of this country, the number of jobs”.

Merkel to the rescue 

Merkel, who is retiring after 16 years in power, did not get involved in the race to pick a candidate from her party to run in the elections.

But with the Christian Democrats’ poll ratings plummeting to their lowest in the post-war period, the party is now encouraging as many joint appearances as possible between Merkel and Laschet.

A poll for the NTV broadcaster published on Tuesday showed the conservative alliance on just 19 percent, with the SPD out ahead on 25 percent and the Greens – an early favourite in the race – on 17 percent.

The CDU/CSU bloc won 33 percent at the last election in 2017 under Merkel, who remains immensely popular with the public.

Merkel appeared alongside Laschet at a digital summit on Monday, and also accompanied him at the weekend on a tour of two towns hit hard by deadly floods in July.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, where Laschet is the regional premier, Merkel told reporters he was “leading the largest state in Germany very successfully”.

“Anyone who can lead a state like this can also lead Germany as chancellor,” she said after visiting local officials in charge of the reconstruction effort, insisting her heart was “very much in it” when it came to endorsing him as her successor.

Downward slide

Laschet’s respons to the floods in his state was the beginning of a downward slide for the 60-year-old, after he was caught on camera joking with local officials during a tribute to flood victims.

Things then went from bad to worse when he said in a TV interview that it would be wrong to “change policies just because of one day”, in what sounded to many like making light of the catastrophe.

In a bid to reverse the trend, Laschet on Friday introduced eight allies who would serve as ministers or advisors on issues including renewable energy, digitalisation and helping the ailing arts sector in the pandemic.

If the alliance’s fortunes don’t improve soon, it could crash out of the chancellery in favour of an SPD-led government.

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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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