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German Politics

> Hesse's CDU to govern with rivals SPD

> Berlin and German states agree on new rules for refugees

> German political gadfly leaves party she cofounded

Boris Rhein
Refugees in Germany
Sahra Wagenknecht

Hesse’s governing conservatives to change coalition partners

11 November 2023: After their outstanding election victory in Hesse on 8 October, the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) want to swap their coalition partner. Instead of, as during the past ten years, leading a government with the Greens, the Christian Democrats would now prefer to govern in Hesse with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). The CDU’s state party leader and current Prime Minister, Boris Rhein, told journalists that, following the elections, his party had held thorough talks with both the SPD and the Greens and concluded that the CDU had more in common with the Social Democrats than with the Green Party. This was particularly true for issues dealing with the environment, immigration, the economy and agriculture.


The Prime Minister thanked his previous government partners, the Greens, for the good co-operation over the past ten years. "We have done a good job, but now it was time for a new start," he said.


According to a spokesperson for the state premier, the CDU and SPD had already reached agreements on the following issues.


Immigration: A clear commitment to limit irregular immigration. In addition, refugees should only be sent to the municipalities if there was a realistic prospect for them to be granted residency in Germany.


Security including cyber security: More police officers and more video surveillance. In addition, an initiative to store IP addresses in order to combat online child pornography.


Economy and innovation: Promoting research and innovation, pharmaceuticals, automotive, chemicals as well as the aerospace industry.


Climate: A programme to install solar panels on an additional 100,000 roofs.


Agriculture: Setting up a stand-alone ministry for agriculture, which would also be responsible for forestry, viticulture and hunting. Previously, the Ministry of the Environment was responsible for these resorts.


The Greens were understandably disappointed at the CDU’s decision to change coalition partners. A spokesperson for the party called it a bad day for the State of Hesse. The CDU's decision, after ten years of good co-operation, was completely incomprehensible, he said


With just under 35 per cent of the vote, the CDU won the election on 8 October by a clear margin. The SPD scored just over 15 per cent and the Greens slightly less. With over 18 per cent of the vote, the far-right AfD will be the largest opposition party during the coming five years. The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) just managed to enter the state parliament with a share of five per cent of votes cast. The Left Party was kicked out after failing to reach the 5-per-cent hurdle.


Hesse is Germany’s sixth-largest state, by population. Its capital is Wiesbaden but Frankfurt, with almost 800,000 inhabitants, is Hesse’s largest city. Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank and the German Stock Exchange, is also Germany’s principal financial hub.




Berlin and German states agree on new rules for refugees

8 November 2023: After months of wrangling, the German federal government (Bundesregierung) and the states (Länder) have agreed on how the accommodation and care of asylum seekers should be financed and shared between Berlin and the regions. At two o’clock on Tuesday (7 November 2023), Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the state premiers of Hesse and Lower Saxony left the meeting room to speak to journalists. While the German Chancellor was visibly relieved that an agreement had been reached, the heads of the federal states appeared quieter.


Hesse's State Premier Boris Rhein described the agreement as a first step that would have to be followed by others, while Stephan Weil, Lower Saxony’s Premier, welcomed the fact that local authorities would receive more support and money to arrange for refugee accommodation and care. The Chancellor added that everyone had agreed that the number of asylum seekers must be significantly and sustainably reduced. He also said it was necessary to speed up asylum procedures. Asylum seekers should know after six months whether their applications will be granted or not. Those given resident status will also be helped to enter the labour market without having to pass German language tests.


Paying by card instead of cash

The state and federal governments also announced that, in future, refugees will receive electronic payment cards instead of cash. The cards will be used to buy everyday goods without cash. According to government thinking, electronic cards instead of cash will restrict opportunities for asylum seekers to transfer money back to their home countries, which, some say, may have acted as an incentive to flee to Germany. The federal states are now tasked to develop national standards for a payment card, an endeavour the federal government will support. A trial model should be ready for introduction by the end of January 2024.


Nowhere to go

The refusal of many countries to take back their nationals is seen as one of the biggest obstacles to more and faster deportation of rejected asylum seekers. The government’s aim should therefore be to conclude migration agreements with such countries. Such agreements could include for legal migration of skilled workers who could be given advanced training in Germany.


Talking to Turkey

Now that Turkish President Recep Erdoğan has been re-elected, the German government will push the European Commission to negotiate with Turkey a new bi-lateral agreement on dealing with refugees that travel from Syria through Turkey to EU countries. With the possibility of an escalation of the current war between Israel and Hamas to include the Lebanon and Hezbollah, it is feared there may be a new flood of refugees seeking safety in Europe. Also to be considered are the roughly 50,000 Turkish nationals that seek asylum in the EU every year.


A quarter of a million asylum seekers in 2023

From January to September 2023, a total of 251,200 asylum applications were submitted in Germany. The number of arrivals is already greater than for the whole of 2022. Nevertheless, the figures are nowhere near the levels of 2015 and 2016, when Germany took in 1.2 million refugees. By the end of September this year, 72,000 refugees had arrived from Syria, while a further 40,000 people from Afghanistan sought refuge in Germany. Around 52 per cent of all refugees arriving are granted a right of residence. (Ukraine refugees are not included in these figures as special provisions apply to them). BACK TO TOP


German political gadfly leaves party she cofounded

25 October 2023: Sahra Wagenknecht, one of Germany's most controversial as well as best-known politicians, has announced her resignation from Die Linke (The Left), the left-wing party she cofounded in 2007. As a possible prelude to an entirely new political party, she, and several of her parliamentary colleagues, announced the setting up of an association, whose name 'Buendnis (Alliance) Sahra Wagenknecht' makes it only too clear who will take charge. Her decision did not come as a total surprise. For a number of years, she has been at odds with her party.


There has been hardly any common ground left between Wagenknecht and the leaders of Die Linke. Especially after Russia's attack on Ukraine, it became clear that Wagenknecht and her party were moving in different directions. Politicians on Germany’s political left have broadly supported the country’s aid to Ukraine, while Wagenknecht expressed sympathies for Russian President Putin. She claimed, among other things, that the West, and especially NATO, bore much responsibility for the conflict and demanded that Ukrainian President Zelensky negotiated with Russia.


Sahra Wagenknecht now plans to found a new party with an initially small team, possibly at the beginning of next year. Besides her, nine other members of the Bundestag (German parliament) have left the Die Linke.


She and her comrades-in-arms have not yet made clear what the new party will stand for. From what can be gleamed, it seems that the party’s direction will have more in common with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) than with its former leftist colleagues. In addition to her demand to cut Germany's aid to Ukraine, she advocates fewer green policy initiatives. Nor does she seem to care much for asylum seekers. These are all positions also held by the AfD.


Political observers therefore believe that if a Wagenknecht party will actually be born - a name for the new party has not yet been decided - it would cost the AfD votes and perhaps put an end to the right-wingers current upward trend.


The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have taken Sahra Wagenknecht's announcement calmly. The party’s general secretary said Wagenknecht had been an established one-woman opposition for 30 years. But there was not a single political measure connected with her political activities. She has not contributed anything for the betterment of ordinary people. As a member of the Bundestag, she has been conspicuous by her absence.


The Social Democrats also hopes that if the Left Party (Die Linke) were to disintegrate, the SPD would benefit from it.


The Linke was established in 2007 to create a political force to the left of the Social Democrats. Its co-founder, Oskar Lafontaine, was a former leader of the Social Democrats and German finance minister in the first Gerhard Schröder administration.


Now Lafontaine, who has been married to Sahra Wagenknecht since 2014, has also resigned from the party he and his wife shaped throughout the 2010s. But Lafontaine, now almost 80, has not yet said whether he would join his wife's new political adventure. BACK TO TOP


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