November 28, 2017 / 10:59 AM / a year ago

Germany's SPD pressure Merkel in weedkiller row before talks

BERLIN, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) asked Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday to censure a conservative minister they blame for sparking a row over an EU vote on a weedkiller that damaged trust between the two camps seeking to form a coalition.

Conservative Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt angered the centre-left SPD by making a unilateral decision to back a European Union proposal to extend the use of glyphosate in the bloc for another five years, a measure opposed by the SPD.

The SPD last week reversed its decision to go into opposition after suffering its worst result in 70 years in a September election. They are expected to launch talks next year with Merkel’s conservatives on forming a coalition government.

The SPD are junior partners in Merkel’s caretaker government, which includes her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) of which agriculture minister Schmidt is a member.

“(The chancellor) must do something to heal the loss of trust. You can’t govern like that. It simply doesn’t work,” SPD Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told Deutschlandfunk radio. “The ball is in the chancellor’s court.”

Merkel has not commented on the row which is straining relations between the two camps before they even launch exploratory talks on renewing their alliance. Hendricks did not say whether the SPD wants Merkel to fire Schmidt.

Merkel turned to the SPD after she failed to form a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the ecologist Greens, which created a political impasse unseen in the post-World War Two era.


Schmidt defended his decision to vote in favour of the five-year extension in Brussels on Monday, saying the European Commission would have probably decided on a longer extension if the vote had been indecisive.

“I took the decision on my own,” Schmidt told German public television. “It falls under my responsibility.”

Hendricks said she had called Schmidt two hours before the tight vote in Brussels, which Germany tipped in favour of an extension by defeating its key ally France. She expressed her opposition to the continued use of the weedkiller, which some of the EU’s 28 member states fear causes cancer.

It is usual practice that Germany abstains in EU votes if ministers from different parties disagree on a policy.

“Christian Schmidt took the chestnut out of the fire for the Commission in breach of our consultations,” Hendricks said.

French President Emmanuel Macron had wanted a shorter extension and a rapid phasing out of glyphosate, which is a mainstay of farming across the continent.

After the vote, he said he would take all necessary measures to ban the product, originally developed by Monsanto, as soon as an alternative is available and at the latest within three years. Germany’s Bayer plans to take over Monsanto for $63.5 billion. (Additional reporting by Thomas Krumenacker and Matthias Sobolewski; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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