by Patrick Donahue
German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a warning to her acting cabinet after her agriculture minister unilaterally voted in favor of extending the use of a disputed weedkiller, a move that her Social Democrat coalition partner called an “affront.”
Merkel stopped short of firing the minister, Christian Schmidt, who defied the Social Democrats’ objections and voted on Monday in favor of keeping glyphosate, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, on the market in the EU for another five years.
“This was not in accord with the guidance that was formulated in the government,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday, adding that she had spoken to Schmidt. “This is something that can’t be repeated.”
The unilateral move by Schmidt, a member of the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, casts a shadow over looming talks between Merkel’s faction and the SPD -- set to begin on Thursday -- just as the party eases off its rejection of forming a new coalition with her. The chancellor’s Christian Democratic-led bloc has been governing with the SPD in a so-called grand coalition since 2013, and the parties currently are working together in a caretaker government while negotiations take place to form a new coalition.The SPD suffered its worst defeat since World War II in an election two months ago and initially sat on the sidelines as Merkel struggled to form a multi-party coalition with the Greens and the pro-business Free Democratic Party. Those talks collapsed last week after the FDP pulled out, putting pressure on the SPD to join a government or risk a new election.
The chancellor made her remarks on Tuesday at a press conference to discuss diesel pollution in German cities and sat next to Barbara Hendricks, acting environment minister and SPD member, who opposed the glyphosate extension. Hendricks earlier demanded that Merkel take action, saying firing Schmidt would help restore trust.
“The chancellor expressed something that is actually in principle self-evident,” Hendricks told a group of reporters after the briefing, saying that she still demanded a "confidence-building measure" and that Schmidt’s move was an “affront.”
Merkel and Hendricks spoke privately after the briefing out of earshot of journalists.
Schmidt’s vote in Brussels helped swing the EU decision for glyphosate over concerns the chemical poses a cancer risk. Many farmers, traditionally supporters of Merkel’s bloc, disagree with that assessment, saying the chemical is safe and important to their livelihoods. On Monday, 18 member countries approved the extension, nine opposed and one abstained -- amounting to a positive verdict under the EU’s “weighted-majority” rules.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Donahue in Berlin at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at [email protected]
Chad Thomas, Iain Rogers
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