Two days after a debate against her Social Democratic challenger, Martin Schulz, drew tepid reviews, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the final session of this German parliament on the state of the nation. It was a chance for her to set out at length her agenda if re-elected.
Significantly, Merkel started out with economics. She said that employment was at an all-time high and that Germany was the envy of Europe. But with an eye toward the Dieselgate scandal, she hinted that the government would increase regulation and work toward the goals of e-mobility, but added that there would be no ban on diesel motors.
“Now is the time to act commensurately and with moderation,” Merkel said. While stressing past German inventions such as the MP3, Merkel said that German needed to get more innovation and pledged to devote three percent of the state budget to research and development.
“We don’t want to end up in the museum of technology,” Merkel said. “We want to lead the way.”
Merkel and her Social Democrat foreign minister may be parting ways – On the topic of North Korea, Merkel said that there could only be a “peaceful, negotiated solution.”
She said that she had conferred with other European leaders, South Korea and the US, about the possibility of imposing further economic sanctions against North Korea.
She repeated her criticism of Turkey for “increasingly departing the path of the rule of law.” She again called upon Ankara to release German citizens she says are being held illegally in Turkish jails and said that she would consult Germany’s fellow EU states about suspending or ending potential Turkish accession to the bloc.
Merkel said that progress was being made on the global crisis with refugees. She promised that Germany would work together with North African nations to stem the tide of migrants. “We still have to talk to them,” she said. “It makes no sense to pretend that we can change the world simply by deciding things in the German Bundestag.”
She also defended her plans for an increase in German defense spending, saying that they had been decided upon before the election of Donald Trump as US president. Otherwise the foreign policy section of her speech contained nothing new.SPD claims the credit
There was no overlooking the fact that Germany is holding a national election in less than three weeks and that Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) is in the process of dissolving itself.
Her speech was repeatedly interrupted by SPD parliamentarians, staking a claim to various achievements of the past four years. That drew an amused, almost maternal response from the chancellor.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing here,” Merkel said. “You should be happy about what we achieved together. Let’s celebrate our work in a coalition that was in many respects very successful.”You wouldn’t have known that from the SPD’s turn at the podium. While pointing out that the government had succeeded in instituting a minimum wage and a quota for women on the boards of major corporations, Social Democratic parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann (pictured) said the credit should go exclusively to his party.
Oppermann said the Social Democrats would do more for pensioners and women. He said that the SPD would free up money to close Germany’s digital deficit with the rest of the world.
“This country needs a chancellor who acts in the social democratic sense,” Oppermann said. “I don’t see this sort of courage in you.”
Oppermann did not take Merkel to task on foreign-policy issues, which was hardly surprising given that the foreign ministers of the past four years came from the SPD. That task fell to the opposition parties.
Speaking for the Greens, party co-leader Cem Özdemir (pictured) called upon the government to “stop cozying up” to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Left Party co-leader Sahra Wagenknecht accused Merkel of ignoring Germany’s social problems and conducting a “feel-good campaign.”After three terms in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel is no stranger to election posters. With a budget of 20 million euros, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is pinning up some 22,000 placards across Germany. The use of a deconstructed German flag brings out the party’s patriotism, while the main focus of slogans is on issues such a security, family and work.
Parting words of a moral authority
At the start of the session, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, who will be retiring, looked back at the work of the German parliament in reunifying Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Warsaw Pact in 1989-90.
“A lot has changed, and a lot proved worthy and has survived – the Bundestag is stronger than most parliaments on this planet,” Lammert said, adding that the parliament was the “heart of German democracy.”
But Lammert, a conservative, criticized the fact that the government and not the Bundestag set the topics for the government’s weekly question-and-answer session. And he said that there was “too much talking and not enough debating” in Germany’s parliament.
Applause for Lammert
The Bundestag paid tribute to departing speaker of the house Norbert Lammert Lammert urged the Bundestag to “retain its ability to form consensus” in the face of fundamentalists and fanatics. And he encouraged German voters to make use of their ballots, saying that billions of people around the world envied Germans their right to vote. “Democracy stands and falls with the participation of its citizens – that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in my political life,” Lammert said.
Lammert was a popular figure across the political spectrum and will be missed when Germany’s next parliament convenes after the national election on September 24.
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