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German chancellor Merkel starts her third term

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has been sworn in to a third term as Germany's head of government. Source: AAPChancellor Angela Merkel has been sworn in to a third term as Germany's head of government. Source: AAPGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel was sworn in Tuesday for a third term at the helm of Europe's top economy, ending nearly three months of post-election limbo while she bartered with rivals to forge a "grand coalition" reports.

Merkel, 59, will lead for another four-year term after being overwhelmingly approved in the job by the Bundestag lower house of parliament where her new left-right coalition has a huge majority.

"I accept the election result and thank you for your trust," she said, dressed in a black trouser suit, having accepted a bunch of flowers and shaking the hands of supporters.

Eighty-six days after Merkel's conservatives swept to victory with 41.5 percent of the vote in elections but narrowly failed to grab an outright majority, the Bundestag ballot outcome came as no surprise.

Merkel secured a "yes" vote from almost three-quarters of the 621 deputies who voted in the secret ballot, or 462 votes, while 150 voted against her becoming chancellor and nine abstained.

After her previous junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats, for the first time failed to win any seats in the September 22 elections, Merkel was forced to seek out a new government tie-up.

After weeks of cajoling an initially reluctant centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavarian CSU sister party and the SPD hammered out a deal late last month to enter a political marriage of convenience.

'Big challenges'

President Joachim Gauck, who confirmed Merkel and her ministers in their posts, said during a ceremony that Germany needed a "stable government, capable of acting" and stressed "big challenges" loomed, including Europe's financial woes and on education.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily said that Merkel had gone into her third term with a "tail wind" but warned that "the shrinking and ageing of the population is Germany's biggest challenge".

"In this area many questions are unanswered," it said in its online edition.

Parliamentarians began the vote -- watched from the gallery by Merkel's mother -- with a short memorial to South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela who died this month.

Raising her right hand, Merkel later took the oath of office, becoming Germany's only third post-war chancellor to win a third mandate.

After her ministers were also sworn in, her cabinet was to meet for the first time after the longest government-building period since World War II.

Merkel heads to Paris, EU summit

Merkel was set to lose no time, with an address to parliament early Wednesday and then on to Paris for talks with President Francois Hollande the same day, ahead of an EU summit at the end of the week.

Mass circulation Bild newspaper expressed concern at the small size and the make-up of Germany's opposition and declared itself the government's new "extra-parliamentary opposition".

"Bild will wrap the new government over the knuckles at every opportunity! Hard. Painfully. And without mercy," it said in an editorial.

Merkel on Monday promised "solid finances, secure prosperity and social welfare" and said that "a grand coalition is a coalition for grand tasks -- we want to make sure that the people in 2017 are better off, even better off, than they are today".

SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel, who is vice chancellor as well as energy and economy minister, drove a hard bargain in weeks of negotiations to draw up a deal for the new alliance.

Amid initial scepticism among the SPD's grassroots membership after the party ended up in Merkel's shadow during its previous "grand coalition" in 2005, Gabriel pledged to give the members the final say this time around.

He put the coalition pact to an unprecedented binding vote by the SPD's more than 450,000 members, 76 percent of whom backed the new government.

Despite its poor election outcome of 25.7 percent, the 150-year-old political force extracted concessions in the coalition talks such as a national minimum wage and pension improvements.

The SPD has six portfolios in the new cabinet, including the foreign ministry, where Frank-Walter Steinmeier returns for a new term.

Merkel keeps trusted lieutenant Wolfgang Schaeuble as finance minister to continue Berlin's tough loans-for-reform stance towards troubled eurozone countries and as the watchful guardian of the German public purse.

In a surpise move, she also appointed CDU rising star Ursula von der Leyen, a worldly high achiever and mother-of-seven, to take over the defence ministry.

And Germany's first national minister with Turkish roots, Aydan Ozoguz of the SPD, will be state secretary for migration, refugees and integration

December 18 2013, 09:13

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