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November 16, 2011 5:23 pm
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats have agreed to become junior partner to the Social Democrats in Berlin’s new city government, giving a boost to the conservatives after a year of setbacks in regional elections.
“We want Berlin to get richer and stay sexy,” said Klaus Wowereit, the Social Democratic mayor, giving a new spin to his famous dictum that the city was “poor but sexy” after a final round of talks with the Christian Democrats.
Their return to power in Germany’s largest city was the surprise result of September’s state poll, in which the Social Democrats considered ruling with the Greens to signal “red-green” was an option in the national vote in late 2013.
But Mr Wowereit, who ruled for a decade with the help of the socialist Left party, ditched talks with the Greens, fearing they would hamper infrastructure projects such as a city-motorway extension and the opening of a new airport.
As a result, Berlin has become the test bed for a renewed “grand coalition”, akin to the one Ms Merkel led nationally from 2004 to 2009, and which she could be tempted to re-forge with the Social Democrats after elections in two years.
The formation of the Berlin government is a bonus for Ms Merkel following seven mostly grim state election results in 2011, in most of which her party lost votes and her Free Democrat coalition partner failed to reach the 5 per cent threshold for entering a state parliament.
Frank Henkel, the Christian Democrat leader in Berlin, said the capital’s so-called “grand coalition” was “a good result” for both parties, with each slated to get four of eight cabinet posts in the city government – including interior and policing for the Christian Democrats.
But the party had to bow to a demand by the Social Democrats for a so-called city tax – a 5 per cent levy on each overnight stay in a hotel, which is meant to render some €20m to fund marketing for Berlin’s booming tourism sector.
That could put the city government on a collision course with the city’s hoteliers, jeopardising the Christian Democrats’ reputation for being pro-business, which it fought to re-establish during a fraught decade out of office in Berlin.
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