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POLITICS

Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

Olaf Scholz, due to be elected this week to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, on Monday named the country's first gender-balanced cabinet, with women taking key security portfolios.

Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz with his SPD team of ministers for the next coalition government.
Incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz with his SPD team of ministers for the next coalition government. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Scholz, a Social Democrat (SPD), unveiled his party’s line-up for the first government led by the centre-left in 16 years, with outspoken pandemic expert Karl Lauterbach tapped as Health Minister.

READ MORE: Karl Lauterbach to become Germany’s next Health Minister

“Equality is important to me and that is why of 16 ministers there will be eight men and eight women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

After the Greens, partners in the incoming coalition government, named their co-leader Annalena Baerbock as foreign minister, the SPD’s Christine Lambrecht, until now justice minister, will take on the defence brief.

“All foreign missions will continually be under review,” Lambrecht told reporters following the NATO debacle in Afghanistan, calling for every operation to have a “clear exit strategy”.

Regional MP Nancy Faeser will become Germany’s first woman Interior Minister, saying her top priority would be tackling the country’s “biggest threat: right-wing extremism” after a series of deadly far-right attacks.

Lauterbach, a prominent but divisive figure who has consistently called for tougher measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, will be the government’s
point-man to fight the pandemic.

Scholz said he was certain “most Germans” wanted Lauterbach in the job.

“Care givers and doctors deserve to see (healthcare) as a top priority in German policy,” Scholz said, as many hospitals report their intensive care units are at the breaking point with a surge in Covid patients.

Scholz’s SPD won the September 26th general election and last month sealed a deal to form a coalition with the ecologist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats.

He is expected to be formally elected by parliament on Wednesday.

Merkel is retiring from politics after 16 years at the helm of Europe’s top economy.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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