Germany inched toward a new government Friday as Chancellor Angela Merkel and the centre-left Social Democrats agreed to move ahead with formal talks to build a coalition. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, her Bavarian CSU allies and Martin Schulz’s SPD announced a policy blueprint for a future coalition government.
If the three parties can agree on the details, and avoid pitfalls along the way, these would become policy in Merkel’s fourth-term government expected to be sworn in by late March.
– Europe –
Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, supports the ambitious reform drive of French President Emmanuel Macron and the European Commission but stays vague on some of the details.
The coalition blueprint starts with the topic of Europe and includes pledges to strengthen common EU foreign and defence policy.
It vows efforts to, “in close partnership with France, sustainably strengthen and reform the eurozone so that the euro can better withstand global crises”.
The plan supports the creation of a European Monetary Fund that could lend to countries in economic crisis, but only pledges to study other Macron ideas, including a common eurozone budget and finance minister.
Lueder Gerken of the Centre for European Policy Studies said that the promise of “a new start” for Europe sends “an important message” to Europe and especially Macron.
However, Gerken found some elements “problematic”, saying that a pledge to increase spending for the EU budget “unnecessarily weakens Germany’s negotiating position”.
– Economy –
Thanks to flush public coffers, Germany will boost public investment while maintaining a balanced budget, says the paper.
The conservatives were able to stick with a pledge not to raise taxes, which the SPD had wanted to do for the very rich.
The SPD won some social welfare concessions, including in health insurance.
On energy and climate, the parties agreed to formally stick with Germany’s carbon emission reduction goals, even if experts agree Germany looks set to overshoot its 2020 target.
They also said Germany would from this year study ways to phase out dirty coal plants, without however setting a target date so far.
German Institute for Economic Research president Marcel Fratzscher said the paper listed many compromises but “lacks a clear vision or courageous reforms that could future-proof Germany”.
– Refugees –
The parties agreed to limit the numbers of refugees and migrants coming to Germany following the arrival of more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.
The mass influx drove the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party which scored almost 13 percent in September elections.
Under the blueprint, Germany will seek to limit the annual intake of people seeking safe haven to around 200,000, in line with a long-standing demand of the CSU, whose southern state of Bavaria was at the frontline of the refugee arrivals.
Germany will also allow some refugees with temporary status to bring their families, but cap the number of relatives coming to Germany at 1,000 a month.
AfD co-leader Alice Weidel slammed the steps as “a farce” as long as Germany could not lock down its borders.
The refugee rights group Pro Asyl said the policies spell “a victory for hardliners over humanity and human rights”.