Saturday 19 January 2019

Merkel says EU united, but must still talk to Kremlin

Angela Merkel is sworn-in as chancellor. Photo: Reuters
Angela Merkel is sworn-in as chancellor. Photo: Reuters

Paul Carrel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union would present a common stance over a nerve agent attack on an ex-Russian spy in England for which British Prime Minister Theresa May holds Moscow responsible.

"We take the findings of the British government very seriously... We will present a common European view here," Ms Merkel told German broadcaster ARD, noting that European leaders would meet next week.

"Nonetheless, I say we can't break off all contacts now. We must still talk with the Russians despite all differences of opinion," she added.

Yesterday, Ms Merkel was sworn in for her fourth term as German chancellor putting an end to nearly six months of political drift in Europe's biggest economy.

Lawmakers voted 364-315 to re-elect Ms Merkel, Germany's leader since 2005. The coalition of Ms Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union, its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, and the centre-left Social Democrats has 399 of the 709 seats in parliament.

In what is widely expected to be her last term, Ms Merkel will have to hold together what is potentially her most fragile coalition yet, while also addressing challenges such as a potential Europe-US trade war and seeking agreement with France and others on the future of a fractious European Union.

"The expectations of our friends and partners are huge, particularly in Europe," President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Ms Merkel and her ministers as he formally appointed the new cabinet. "Many hope we in Germany will show that liberal democracies are capable of acting and facing the future."

Ms Merkel will travel to Paris tomorrow for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The chancellor heads a much-changed Cabinet, with the governing parties - which are traditional rivals - keen to send signals of renewal after a September election in which all lost significant ground.

There are new faces in the most important posts, the finance, foreign, economy and interior ministries.

Yesterday's parliamentary vote came 171 days after the election, nearly double the previous record. The Social Democrats initially planned to go into opposition after crashing to their worst result since World War II, but Mr Steinmeier nudged them into a reluctant about-turn after Ms Merkel's talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.

Ms Merkel was able to take office only after two-thirds of the Social Democrats' members approved in a ballot the coalition deal clinched last month.

Politicians and observers say that the new coalition is likely to last its full term until 2021, not least because none of the governing parties is keen to face a new election.

Irish Independent

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