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Merkel Parries Queries In First-Ever 'Chancellor's Question Time'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel responds to questions from parliamentarians in the first-ever "Chancellor's Question Time," in the Bundestag on Wednesday in Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel responds to questions from parliamentarians in the first-ever "Chancellor's Question Time," in the Bundestag on Wednesday in Berlin.

In Germany's first-ever "Chancellor's Question Time," Angela Merkel fielded lawmakers' inquiries in the Bundestag on issues ranging from immigration to strained relations with Washington.

While it lacked the raucous free-for-all quality of the familiar British version of the tradition, Wednesday's session marked the first time the German chancellor has faced members of parliament for a direct interrogation.

The new format was put in place by the coalition that took office in March. According to Deutsche Welle, it consists of "One-minute questions; one-minute answers; no follow-ups and no pre-submitted questions."

Three question-time sessions are planned each year. The Q & As are regulated by a stoplight – green for go, yellow at the 30-second mark and red for time's up.

The Guardian notes, "Journalists and other spectators who filled the visitor gallery looked on with glee, hoping that the new addition would make for a spectacle a good deal livelier than the average Bundestag assembly."

The first question came from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is now Germany's main opposition. Lawmaker Hansjörg Müller asked if Merkel, who has been a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, planned to engage more closely with Moscow.

She noted that she had a "long, extensive, bilateral talk" with Putin last month in Sochi.

"I'm in favor of talks with Russia," she said, "But keeping in mind the differences we have."

Asked if she thought the G-7 should invite Russia – which was thrown out of the grouping after it annexed Crimea in 2014 — back in, she said actions in Crimea were a "flagrant breach" and that Russia's removal was "unavoidable."

Merkel acknowledged that growing tensions between the U.S. and its allies over Washington's withdrawal from international agreements on climate change and Iran's denuclearization and its newly imposed trade tariffs would make the upcoming G7 summit in Canada a tense meeting.

There is "no sense in papering over divisions" on trade issues, she said.

"It is apparent that we have a serious problem with multilateral agreements here, and so there will be contentious discussions," Merkel said.

Last week, six members of the G7, including Germany, singled out the seventh, the U.S., after the Trump administration announced it would extend the same tariffs imposed on China – 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, on Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The U.S. move "[undermines] open trade and confidence in the global economy," the six nations of the group said in a statement.

Just days before the G7 in La Malbaie, Quebec, begins on Friday, Merkel said Germany hoped to at least preserve the progress made at last year's summit.

"I will go in with good will," she said, adding a caution that "we must not keep watering down" the G7's previous commitments to fair trade.

"There must not be a compromise simply for the sake of a compromise," Merkel said.

She said she would try to discuss differences with the U.S. over Iran and trade tariffs with Trump.

Since 2015, Germany has allowed more than a million migrants and refugees into the country, many from such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Merkel, fielding another question from the far-right, anti-immigrant AfD, was accused of "importing Islamists," many of whom are "rapists and murderers" who have caused "endless human suffering."

"When will you resign?" asked lawmaker Gottfried Curio.

Merkel replied that the influx that began in 2015 is "an exceptional humanitarian situation, [and that] Germany behaved very responsibly."

After the 60-minute session, time was called.

"What a shame it's now over," Merkel said, smirking. "But I'll be back."

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