Coalition Talks Parties Take On Rent Hikes and Dual Citizenship
Coalition negotiations between German Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats are beginning to yield results. The parties agreed Monday night to plan for capping rent hikes, with dual citizenship and a tougher prostitution law on the agenda for this week.
As official coalition negotiations continue in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) seem to be approaching agreement on several key issues, including a long-debated federal law that would prevent excessive rent hikes.
Late Monday night, party negotiators agreed on a "package for affordable housing," which includes tax incentives for residential developers and legislation that allows states to cap rents in areas with big increases. Landlords would be prevented from raising the rent on a newly let apartment to higher than 10 percent above the local price level. The proposed legislation is intended to protect low- and middle-income tenants from exploitation by profit-hungry investors. But critics argue it will do nothing to slow down gentrification, as wealthy newcomers will still be chosen over low-income residents for housing in desirable neighborhoods.
There was plenty of incentive for the parties to come together against excessive rent increases, given that about half of German voters rent their houses or apartments. But some other issues remain split across party lines. The conservatives still have not agreed to consider a law enabling dual citizenship, which the Social Democrats have named as one of their "non-negotiable demands."
But the topic will take center stage this week when Merkel's integration minister, Maria Böhmer, presents a proposal that would introduce the concept of "dormant citizenship." Under the proposed model, a resident who wants to become a German citizen would not automatically have to give up their prior nationality. Instead, one's country of residency would determine which of the two citizenships is active.
There remains a sizeable proportion of conservatives opposed to the plan, including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), who objects to any change in Germany's citizenship laws. But they may ultimately have no choice but to compromise on the subject or risk derailing negotiations toward creating a so-called grand coalition government.
In a speech on Saturday, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel made it clear the party could still reject the alliance if its core conditions are not met.
"If we have good reasons, we can ultimately say no and accept new elections," Gabriel told party members in Berlin. "If, for example, they say no to dual citizenship and re-regulating the labor market, those are good reasons to say at the end, 'No, we won't do it.'"
Road Toll for Foreigners?
A proposed road toll that would effectively be levied only on foreign drivers is also on the agenda this week after Brussels gave its unexpected backing to the idea last Friday. Under the CSU proposal, all cars would face a charge to use Germany's motorways. But German drivers would recoup the costs with a separate tax credit, meaning all revenue raised by the toll would come from foreign drivers. The CSU, the sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), made the road toll a condition for it to join a new coalition government.
The CDU has long been opposed to the levy, which it thought violated European Union equality legislation, and Merkel said during a television debate in September that under her leadership, "there will be no car toll." But after the EU's traffic commissioner signaled the plan might be possible, the issue is now being discussed in coalition negotiations, and Germany's Ministry of Transport is currently evaluating what models would be legally possible.
Cracking Down on Forced Prostitution
The parties have also agreed to come together on a new prostitution law that would crack down on human trafficking and significantly tighten requirements for brothels in Germany.
"The brutal exploitation of prostitutes that takes place on a massive scale in Germany today must be stopped," said SPD deputy chair Manuela Schwesig on Monday. Several conservatives also expressed their support for stricter laws, though both political camps ruled out a full prohibition of prostitution, which was formally legalized in 2002.
The conservatives, consisting of Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Bavarian CSU, emerged victorious in September elections but fell just short of the votes required to govern alone.
The two sides hope to conclude negotiations by Nov. 26, after which the SPD will put the deal to a vote by all 472,000 members of the party. The result of the vote is due on Dec. 15. If it passes, the new government could officially be sworn in by Christmas.
chw -- with wires