Germany: Bundestag begins business despite coalition impasse

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Coalition talks may be stalling, but the new German parliament is still getting on with its day-to-day business. Cities and states are also pressing on with their work — but make it clear they want a coalition soon.

Routine safeguards built into its postwar constitution kept Germany functioning on Thursday – from federal to communal level - as President Frank-Walter Steinmeier led further efforts in Berlin aimed at forming a coalition government.

The Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, this week established the general committee to enable in-depth deliberation over a range of issues, as well as over draft bills. 

Parliamentary speaker and ex-Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble heads the panel which has representatives from each of the Bundestag's parties.
How the temporary committee works
The committee will continue to facilitate the work of parliament until the new government is officially formed and the permanent parliamentary committees are installed.
In addition to coordinating  parliamentary business and petitions, it will also double as the Bundestag's interim EU, foreign affairs, defense and budget committees.
It is not allowed, however, to take up issues on its own authority.
Central committee's agenda
Its current agenda includes seven mandate extensions for Bundeswehr operations aboard, including northern Iraq and Mali. The move has been sought by Social Democrat (SPD) and Christian Democrat (CDU) ministers of Chancellor Angela Merkel's previous grand coalition cabinet, which remains in a caretaker role until replaced - another constitutional safeguard.
Media, allowed to film the main committee's first six minutes, heard opposition Left member Petra Sitte say her party would submit a motion seeking to have all its future proceedings kept open to the public.
Lower Saxony takes a swing at Berlin breakdown
In Hannover, freshly re-elected premier Stephan Weil told Lower Saxony's new assembly that his coalition, comprising his center-left SPD and the regional CDU, had entered a new chapter after nearly 50 years of regional interparty strife. 
Referring to the stalled talks in Berlin, Weil said his regional SPD and the CDU had had an obligation to form a "reliable and stable" government in Hanover.
Weil, 58, had previously headed a regional government of Social Democrats and Greens, who, like the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), refused to enter into a coalition with the CDU.
The newly elected state premier outmaneuvered the CDU in October elections despite the diesel debacle at Volkswagen, where Weil has a board role via Lower Saxony's 20 percent voting stake.
CDU leader Bernd Althusmann, who lost against Weil, now takes up the role of vice state premier and economy minister in Weil's new SPD-CDU cabinet. The center-right, center-left government has set its goals on boosting internet access, integrating refugees deleting kindergarten fees and recruiting 1,500 more police officers, statewide.
Meanwhile, the Greens and the FDP scoffed at Weil's plans, dismissing the coalition as "mediocre" and "vague," and lacking a "joint vision."
Cities sound alarm on security, investment gaps
Wednesday also saw urgent calls from the German Association Cities on state and federal government to address to security gaps and investment shortfalls.
Burdening municipalities with more security tasks in the wake of last year's Berlin Christmas market terrorist attack was untenable, it warned in one of many appeals directed by lobby groups at coalition negotiators in Berlin.
Representing some 3,200 cities and towns as well as the city-states of Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen, the Association said federal and regional state authorities were "obligated to provide more police nationwide."
Article 28 of Germany's Basic Law guarantees communal self-administration, coupled with revenue equalization reform negotiated last year.
"The attempts by certain regional states to shift policing tasks to communal authorities is rejected emphatically by municipalities," said Eva Lohse, the mayor of Ludwigshafen and the Association's president.
Lohse furthermore called for improvements to communal infrastructure."
Before last Sunday's FDP withdrawal from Chancellor Merkel's bid to form a three-way federal coalition, the Association warned that municipalities already faced a €120 billion ($142 billion) shortfall in investments.
Nuremburg's mayor Ulrich Maly urged the next federal government to pour more funds into fixing Germany's shortage of affordable social housing, partly the result of privatizations in past decades. 
ipj/kms (AFP, dpa, epd)

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