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Merkel urges compromise at start of tough coalition talks

Outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel made an implicit call on politicians to overcome their differences on Sunday, as talks between parties to choose her successor got underway following last week's close election.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech on the Day of German Unity
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during celebrations on the Day of German Unity at the Georg-Friedrich-Händel Halle venue in Halle, eastern Germany on October 3rd, 2021, on the 31st anniversary of German Reunification. Jan Woitas / POOL / AFP

The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and their candidate Olaf Scholz narrowly won last Sunday’s vote on 25.7 percent. Merkel’s conservative CDU-CSU alliance plunged to an all-time low of 24.1 percent, as she prepares to leave the stage after 16 years in power.

While the result leaves the SPD in pole position to form a government, conservative leader Armin Laschet has also vowed to begin coalition talks in a last-ditch effort to keep the ailing CDU-CSU in power.

Speaking in front of party leaders at celebrations in Halle to mark German reunification in 1990, Merkel said the country once again had the opportunity to “shape” its next chapter.

“We can argue over exactly how in the future, but we know that the answer is in our hands, that we have to listen and speak with each other, that we have differences, but above all things in common,” Merkel said, in a clear reference to negotiations at hand.

In the complex calculations for a coalition, the make-up of the next German government essentially hinges on which of the two main parties can persuade the Greens and the liberal FDP to sign up for a partnership.

READ ALSO: German parties meet as coalition haggling begins

The SPD held talks with the FDP, described as “very constructive” by the Social Democrats’ general secretary Lars Klingbeil in a statement afterwards.

His FDP counterpart Volker Wissing said the parties’ “substantive positions on important points differ”, but also stressed that a reforming government needed to be formed to take on Germany’s biggest challenges.

The SPD subsequently had talks with the Greens, while their rivals, the CDU-CSU, also met with the FDP on Sunday evening. They will speak to the Greens on Tuesday.

‘Historic defeat’
The Social Democrats have discovered new momentum since snatching the close election win.

A poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday showed that 28 percent of the public would vote SPD if the election were rerun, up two percent from the election itself.

The conservative bloc meanwhile lost three percentage points.

Some 76 percent of respondents said they thought Scholz should be the next German chancellor, with just 13 percent backing Laschet.

Headshots of the SPD's Olaf Scholz (left) and the CDU's Armin Laschet

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz (left) and the CDU’s Armin Laschet pictured in Berlin and Aachen, respectively. Scholz narrowly won last week’s vote, but the conservatives have not given up yet and are also starting coalition talks. (Photos by HANNIBAL HANSCHKE and Ina Fassbender / various sources / AFP)

In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel on Friday, Scholz said it was “clear from every poll that people don’t want the (CDU-CSU) to be part of the next government.

“The election result is clear. The CDU and CSU have suffered a historic defeat and have been voted out,” he said.

The FDP party is closer politically to the CDU than the SPD, but ahead of the talks, their leader Cristian Lindner put pressure on the conservatives. In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Lindner called on them to clarify whether they “really” wanted to govern.

But the conservatives are not giving up, with CSU general secretary Markus Blume insisting on Friday that a conservative-led coalition had a chance.

‘Democratic accomplishments’
In what was billed as perhaps her last major speech as chancellor, Merkel on Sunday appealed to her successors to defend democracy amid the scramble to form a government.

“We sometimes take our democratic accomplishments too lightly,” Germany’s long-standing leader said in her speech.

She called on the public to “reject radicalisation”, while referring to a neo-Nazi attack on a synagogue in the city where she was speaking two years earlier.

“Diversity and difference” were not threats to society, Merkel added, as Germany had shown in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The veteran politician, who lived in the communist east before reunification, was visibly moved as she described her own struggles with prejudice and called for more “respect” for the personal histories of east Germans.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s upcoming coalition talks

READ ALSO: ‘We lost’: CDU’s Laschet faces calls to resign over German election disaster

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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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