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Germany

Berlin's new left-wing government set to change city

Berlin's new government of the SPD, the Left party and the Greens want to stop deportations and make the city center radically greener. The coalition is being touted as a blueprint for next year's general election.

After receiving approval from the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, members of the socialist Left party overwhelming voted in favor of the coalition agreement on Wednesday - clearing the way for Berlin's new "red-red-green" government.

The new coalition, which will be led by the SPD, is set to re-elect SPD Mayor Michael Müller on Thursday. Plans revealed prior to the coalition's formal approval suggest a fairly radical, and much greener, vision for the city.

According to proposals revealed in the weeks since September's election, the three parties want to ban cars (but not buses and taxis) from the city's central boulevard Unter den Linden, turn the entire city center into a parking zone, pump 40 million euros ($45 million) a year into cycling infrastructure, extend the tram network and even ban sexist advertising from state-owned advertising space.

The parties also want to improve the city's treatment of refugees, particularly by fixing the creaking bureaucracy that led to a borderline humanitarian crisis as migrants queued for days at the "LaGeSo" authority last winter - images of crowds standing at the office went round the world. "We have to get away from the chaos that we've had until now," said Left party politician Katina Schubert.

Deutschland Berlin Unter den Linden - Bebelplatz (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Krause)

Buses and taxis may soon have Unter den Linden to themselves

No more deportations

The coalition partners want to create a multi-department taskforce to deal with the 50,000 refugees that are still left in the city since last year's influx, and any more who have arrived since. The parties said that their main aim will be to get the refugees out of mass shelters such as the hangars of former Tempelhof airport or the ICC conference center - and especially the city's sports halls, a few of which have been out of action for over a year.

The city government also wants to avoid housing refugees in so-called "container villages" - collections of readymade modular structures - built on open spaces. This would entail the building of affordable mass housing. Not only this: The state will support the right to dual citizenship in the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat (a sticking point opposed by Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union), as well as giving migrants more opportunities to bring their families over to live with them and ending forced deportations.

"We will exhaust all the state political possibilities to make a policy that is humanitarian and brings opportunities to stay," Bettina Jarasch of the Green party told the "Berliner Morgenpost" newspaper.

Green city and opposition

But the environmental plans for the city itself are the most radical, particularly since many appear designed to discourage the use of private cars. They include not only a parking zone within the entire central "ring" railway line, but also a limit on the extension of the controversial A100 highway through the district of Friedrichshain. There are also proposals to create more roof gardens.

Berlin Wahlen zum Abgeordnetenhaus Michael Müller (picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)

The SPD's Michael Müller won September's election

Opposition parties have heaped scorn on the proposals, with CDU transport spokesman Oliver Friederici calling them an "attack on every motorist." "We are decidedly against ideology in highway construction."

Sebastian Czaja, leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party, struck a more sarcastic tone: "The future red-red-green government wants to turn Berlin more and more into a village. Unter der Linden is supposed to become a village green, the whole of the inner city is going to be turned into a pony park, economic transport will be limited, and Berliners will become self-providers."

But the plans were welcomed by supporters of the "cycling initiative" that had campaigned for a referendum on massively expanding the city's cycling infrastructure. "It's going in the right direction," said campaign co-founder Heinrich Strössenreuther.

There are even proposals to re-municipalize the city's electricity grid and gas network by initiating a new licensing procedure which left-wing politicians say will hopefully be won by the state-owned company Berlin Energie.

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