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German report German report
by Euro Reporter
2010-05-18 08:10:09
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Government to sidestep Bundesrat on nuclear power plant extension

The centre-right coalition government is looking to bypass the Bundesrat upper house to push through one of its more controversial policy plans – extending the lifetime of atomic power plants – according to a chancellery official.

“Regarding the extension of run times, we’ll have a constitutional law that does not require [Bundesrat] consent,” Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla, a member of Merkel’s conservatives said on Saturday.  The announcement comes after a devastating electoral defeat for her Christian Democrats and their junior coalition partners the pro-business Free Democrats last weekend in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. As a result, the parties in Merkel’s governing coalition have lost their majority in the Bundesrat, the parliamentary chamber where the German states are represented.

Pofalla said the SPD government under former chancellor Gerhard Schröder also excluded the Bundesrat from big decisions on nuclear power.  Green party parliamentary group leader Jürgen Trittin criticized Pofalla’s suggestion as “legal manoeuvring.”  “Instead of legal trickery, the government should finally realize: There’s neither a public nor a Bundesrat majority that supports more nuclear waste and the higher risks posed by old nuclear reactors,” he said Saturday in a party statement.

The atomic power debate has been reignited in recent months; the country’s biggest anti-nuclear demonstration in years took place on April 24. Some 120,000 people joined a 120-kilometre human chain between nuclear power stations Krümmel in Schleswig-Holstein and Brünsbuttel in Hamburg to protest the government’s policy on atomic power stations.  Pofalla’s statement puts Merkel’s chancellery at odds with Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, who had been operating under the assumption that the Bundesrat decides the atomic power debate.


Sommer reelected as head of German trade union umbrella group

German labour leader Michael Sommer has been reelected as the chairman of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) with a large majority at the start of the union's convention in Berlin. Union delegates approved Sommer's re-election on Monday morning with a vote of 94.1 percent, well above his 2006 election with 78.4 percent.

Sommer, a 58-year-old former postal service trade unionist, first took office in 2002. In beginning his third term, he is following in the footsteps of Heinz-Oskar Vetter, who holds the record for the longest tenure as DGB chairman at 13 years, from 1969 to 1982. In announcing he would seek a third term in office in June 2009, Sommer said he did so because he wanted to "continue fighting for the little people." As DGB chief, Sommer has the task of representing the various political interests of the 6.3 million members belonging to the eight unions DGB comprises, including the powerful IG Metall and ver.di.

Sommer has made efforts to increase the union's independence from party politics, but has maintained close relationships with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leading members of her CDU party. He is also running for president of the International Trade Union Federation, which meets in Vancouver this summer. The union group represents 176 million members from 155 countries.


Lafontaine steps aside for new Left party leaders

Oskar Lafontaine, co-leader of Germany’s far-left party Die Linke, quits the political stage this weekend because of illness: But he leaves the party he founded in rude health. Lafontaine, one of the most colourful and controversial figures in German politics, steps down as leader of Die Linke party after undergoing cancer treatment last year. But Lafontaine, 66, leaves as the party is performing well in the polls and is represented in the governments of 13 of Germany's 16 states.

And one of his last tasks as joint leader was to oversee a successful regional election campaign in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, where the party won its first election to the state legislature. Three years after its foundation, Die Linke, a mix of former East German communists and West German leftists, has established itself as a major force in national politics, shaking up the more well-established mainstream parties. Before defecting from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) in 2005 to set up Die Linke two years later, Lafontaine was one of the top SPD grandees, appointed finance minister in 1998 by then chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

In that position, he pushed hard for tax harmonisation in Europe, leading the euro sceptic Sun tabloid in Britain to publish a famous front page with his picture and the headline: "Is this the most dangerous man in Europe?" He quit the ministry in 1999, angered over what he said were the Schröder government's "neo-liberal" policies. Even then however, he rarely left the headlines. Nine years previously, in the country's first post-reunification election, he ran unsuccessfully as the SPD's candidate for chancellor against Helmut Kohl, seen as the architect of the end of the country's decades-long division. During that campaign, he was nearly killed in a frenzied attack by a deranged knife-wielding woman. His abrupt and unexpected announcement in January that he would be stepping down at this weekend's party conference left the party with a big hole to fill, but the pair tipped to take over vowed to continue his legacy.

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