German chancellor Merkel starts her third term

17th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was sworn in Tuesday for a third term at the helm of Europe's top economy, ending nearly three months of post-election limbo while she bartered with rivals to forge a "grand coalition".

Merkel, 59, will lead for another four-year term after being overwhelmingly approved in the job by the Bundestag lower house of parliament where her new left-right coalition has a huge majority.

"I accept the election result and thank you for your trust," she said, dressed in a black trouser suit, having accepted a bunch of flowers and before shaking the hands of supporters.

Eighty-six days after Merkel's conservatives swept to victory with 41.5 percent of the vote in September elections but narrowly failed to grab an outright majority, the Bundestag ballot outcome came as no surprise.

Merkel secured a "yes" vote from more than 74 percent of the 621 deputies who voted in the secret ballot, or 462 votes, while 150 voted against her becoming chancellor and nine abstained.

After her previous junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, for the first time failed to win any parliamentary seats in the September 22 elections, Merkel was forced to seek out a new government tie-up.

After weeks of cajoling an initially reluctant centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian CSU sister party and the SPD hammered out a deal at the end of November to enter a political marriage of convenience.

And with 504 of the 631 Bundestag seats, the new government now commands a huge majority -- the biggest for nearly half a century -- though the path ahead is expected to be bumpy.

Parliamentarians began the vote by standing for a short memorial to South African peace icon Nelson Mandela who died this month, as Bundestag president Norbert Lammert paid tribute to his example in fighting racism.

Merkel went to the palace of President Joachim Gauck to be confirmed in the post and returned to the Bundestag to be formally sworn in as Germany's only third post-war chancellor to win a third mandate.

Raising her right hand, she took the oath of office and, smiling, received a standing ovation from deputies before taking the first seat on the new government bench.

After her ministers were also to be sworn in, Merkel's cabinet was set to meet for the first time, enabling the chancellor to finally get back to business in earnest after the longest government-building period since World War II.

Merkel to head to Paris, EU summit

Merkel is due to address parliament Wednesday and travel to Paris for talks with President Francois Hollande the same day, ahead of an EU summit at the end of the week.

A parliament debate after Wednesday's address will be the first opportunity for a face-off across the floor since the SPD moved off the opposition benches.

Mass circulation Bild newspaper expressed concern at the small size and the make-up of Germany's opposition and declared itself the government's new "extra-parliamentary opposition".

"Bild will wrap the new government over the knuckles at every opportunity! Hard. Painfully. And without mercy," it said in an editorial.

Merkel on Monday promised "solid finances, secure prosperity and social welfare" and said that "a grand coalition is a coalition for grand tasks -- we want to make sure that the people in 2017 are better off, even better off, than they are today".

SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel, who will become vice chancellor as well as energy and economy minister, drove a hard bargain in weeks of negotiations to draw up a deal for the new alliance.

Amid initial scepticism among the SPD's grassroots membership after the party ended up in Merkel's shadow during its previous grand coalition in 2005, Gabriel pledged to give the members the final say this time around.

He put the coalition pact to an unprecedented binding vote among the SPD's more than 450,000 members, 76 percent of whom backed the new government.

Despite its poor election outcome of 25.7 percent, its second worst showing since World War II, the 150-year-old political force extracted concessions in the coalition talks such as a national minimum wage and pension improvements.

The SPD has six portfolios in the new cabinet, including the foreign ministry, where Frank-Walter Steinmeier returns for a new term.

Merkel keeps trusted lieutenant Wolfgang Schaeuble as finance minister to continue Berlin's tough loans-for-reform stance towards troubled eurozone countries and as the watchful guardian of the German public purse.

In a surpise move, she also appointed CDU rising star Ursula von der Leyen, a worldly high achiever and mother-of-seven, to take over the defence ministry.

And Germany's first national minister with Turkish roots, Aydan Ozoguz of the SPD, will be state secretary for migration, refugees and integration.


© 2013 AFP

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