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POLITICS

SPD rules out deal with Left

Germany's centre-left Social Democrats on Monday tried to smooth over a rift caused by plans for cooperation with ex-communists and ruled them out as national coalition partners.

“With regard to the future, we exclude a coalition with The Left at national level and with good reason,” said the party’s vice-president, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, referring to a bloc that includes former communists.

Steinmeier also warned party leaders in the western state of Hesse to think carefully before entering into a pact with the extreme-left grouping in the regional parliament.

“The freedom to decide also carries with it a responsibility not to do something that can hurt our party in the rest of the country,” he said.

The remarks were made at a party conference where the Social Democrats (SPD) conducted a post-mortem of three regional elections in the past two months that are seen as pointers to the national vote in 2009.

The party is seen as weakened by national president Kurt Beck’s decision to approve a working agreement in Hesse with The Left, which groups members of the defunct East German communist party and Social Democrat defectors.

It earned Beck a tongue-lashing from Germany’s conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has governed in an increasingly fractious left-right national coalition with the Social Democrats since 2005.

Merkel said the SPD, and notably Beck, “are not reliable” and hinted that she was shopping around for other possible partners for the post-2009 period.

The Social Democrats registered gains in the regional votes in Hesse and in Hamburg in the north but are seen as being badly weakened by infighting over cooperation with The Left.

Der Spiegel magazine reported in its latest issue that senior party members want Steinmeier to replace Beck ahead of the 2009 vote.

But Steinmeier dismissed suggestions that the SPD is in dire straits and plans to ditch Beck, telling reporters: “We are not in distress, there is no reason for that.”

He said the party on Monday voted overwhelmingly to preserve the right of regional leaders to take independent decisions over coalition arrangements, describing the fact as “a clear signal of support for Kurt Beck.”

The recent regional elections confirmed that The Left is a political force on the rise.

It now holds seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 regional legislatures but is seen an ideological outcast by other parties, though it offers a fresh option out of the post-election deadlock that is common in Germany.

Merkel vowed last week that her Christian Democrats would shun the party.

POLITICS

EU ministers urge unity after Germany’s energy ‘bazooka’

EU finance ministers on Monday pleaded for unity after Germany announced a €200 billion plan to help German households and businesses pay for high energy prices, amid accusations that the EU's biggest economy was acting alone.

EU ministers urge unity after Germany's energy 'bazooka'

Europe is struggling with historically high energy prices as it faces an early autumn cold snap and a coming winter almost certainly to be endured without crucial Russian gas supplies because of the war in Ukraine.

Many EU countries have announced national programmes to shield consumers from the high prices. But Germany went the furthest on Friday when it announced its mammoth plan, which will see help pouring to Germans for two years.

Arriving to talk with his eurozone counterparts, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner insisted the spending was “proportionate” to the size of Germany’s economy and said his goal was to use as little of the money as possible.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

But Germany’s largesse rankled several EU capitals, some of which feared their industries could take severe blows while Germany’s sits protected, deforming the EU’s single market.

Outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has slammed Berlin for its lack of solidarity and coordination with EU partners.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, without directly criticizing Berlin, called on partners to agree a common strategy against the price shock and for countries to refrain from going it alone.

“The more this strategy is coordinated, united, the better it is for all of us,” he said.

Risk to ‘European unity’

Others pointed to the unprecedented solidarity shown in the Covid-19 crisis in which the 27 EU nations, against all expectations, approved a jointly financed €750 billion recovery plan.

“Solidarity is not only on the German shoulders, I think this is something that we have to deliver at European level,” said EU economics affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni.

“We have very good examples from the previous crisis on how solidarity can react to a crisis and also reassure financial markets. I think that this is our goal,” he said.

While a Covid-style recovery plan is not in the cards for now, Le Maire said €200 billion in loans and €20 billion in aid should be devoted to REPowerEU, a programme to help countries break their dependence on Russian gas.

READ ALSO: Will Germany set a gas price cap – and how would it work?

Bruegel, a highly influential think tank in Brussels, called the German plan a spending “bazooka” that many EU countries were unable to match, creating a potential source of animosity.

“If the German gas price brake gives German business a much better chance to survive the crisis than, say, Italian business, economic divergences in the EU could be deepened, and European unity on Russia undermined,” it said in a blog.

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