New government to make Germany more welcoming to migrants

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Olaf Scholz, centre, with his new coalition partners, including politicians from the Greens, Free Democratics and his own Social Democratics
Olaf Scholz, centre, with his new coalition partners, including politicians from the Greens, Free Democratics and his own Social Democratics

Germany will be significantly more welcoming to migrants under a deal to form a new coalition government agreed on Wednesday.

The government, led by Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, will take the country in a liberal direction after the departure of Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel, with plans to legalise cannabis and allow self-identification for transgender people.

Under the reforms, the time for immigrants to gain German citizenship will be cut to just five years — or three in the most deserving cases. It will also be easier for recognised refugees to bring their families to Germany.

The incoming government meanwhile pledged to make Germany climate neutral by 2045 and produce 80 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

It unveiled plans to build 400,000 affordable new homes a year, a quarter of them paid for directly by the taxpayer. The voting age is also to be lowered to 16.

“We are united by our belief in progress,” Mr Scholz said as he presented the plans. “We want politics of real impact."

Angela Merkel will remain as acting Chancellor for the next fortnight - Getty Images
Angela Merkel will remain as acting Chancellor for the next fortnight - Getty Images

Mr Scholz is expected to be sworn in as chancellor in two weeks’ time after he secured the deal to lead Germany’s first ever three-way coalition.

The new government still has to be approved by parliament in a vote to be held in the week of December 6, but that is expected to be a formality.

Mrs Merkel will stay on as caretaker chancellor until her successor takes office, but her authority is already draining away.

The coalition leaders rejected calls from Mrs Merkel for a new coronavirus lockdown and plan to focus on raising the German vaccination rate instead.

She summoned the leaders of the coalition parties to her office late on Tuesday night and reportedly pressed for a two-week full lockdown, but was rebuffed.

Instead Mr Scholz announced plans to form a new coronavirus crisis taskforce and make vaccination compulsory for hospital and nursing home workers.

“Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic,” he said.

The coalition will bring together Mr Scholz’s centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD), the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the German Green Party.

The FDP appeared to have walked away with the biggest prize despite being the smallest party after its leader, Christian Lindner, was named as finance minister.

German policy on Russia and China is expected to become considerably tougher and shift away from Mrs Merkel’s conciliatory tone after the Green Party was given the foreign ministry.

The Greens have yet to name ministers but Annalena Baerbock, a hardliner on Moscow and Beijing, is expected to get the foreign ministry.

Ms Baerbock could align Germany’s policy much more closely with Britain’s.

She has repeatedly called for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to be scrapped, putting the new government on a potential collision course with Russia.

The Greens have also been given a new ministry for business and climate in addition to the existing environment ministry.

Robert Habeck is expected to be named to the new business and climate post, and will have overall control of ambitious plans that include phasing out coal by 2030.

Mr Scholz’s party will control the interior ministry and oversee a migrant policy that is strikingly more liberal than Mrs Merkel’s — despite her decision to open Germany’s borders in 2015.

The coalition pledged to provide new ways for asylum-seekers to reach Germany legally, including humanitarian visas.


Increased minimum wage

It will allow multiple citizenship for people from outside the European Union for the first time, and shorten the time for immigrants to gain German citizenship from eight years to just five — and from six years to three in exceptional cases.

Hubertus Heil of the SPD is the only minister in Mrs Merkel’s coalition expected to stay in his current role as social security minister.

He will oversee plans to increase the minimum wage to €12 (£10) an hour and introduce more generous benefits, including a new comprehensive child benefit system.

The SPD will control a new housing ministry to oversee plans to build 400,000 affordable homes a year.

It will also name the defence minister, with the coalition planning to allow the German military to make more extensive use of drones.

The Greens will control the agriculture and family ministries, and the FDP justice, transport and education.

None of the parties reportedly wanted to take on the health ministry, which is seen as a poisoned chalice in the light of the pandemic. In the end the SPD will control it.

The three parties are not natural bedfellows, and the negotiations were long and tough. The deal went to the wire, with talks going on until 2am the night before the announcement and resuming in the morning before agreement was reached.

The SPD and the Greens are both on the centre-Left, while the FDP is liberal on social issues but conservative on the economy.

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