While Berlin gears up for Christmas, politicians still can't quite let daily business go. Angela Merkel's conservative CDU party picks up a bit of steam, while Germany looks ahead to federal elections in the fall.
There's a cold fog hanging over Berlin - with darkness already descending on the capital by early afternoon. Normally, the government quarter is crowded with cars, and politicians, lobbyists and journalists run back and forth on the streets throughout the day. But now it's nearly empty - with many people having already packed up and left town, heading to friends and relatives elsewhere for the holidays. Those still finishing up work here have their suitcases sitting next to their desks at the ready.
Christmas is around the corner, but politics still rule in Germany - with many people already looking ahead to federal elections scheduled for Fall 2013. Berlin-based public opinion research institute Infratest dimap, for instance, conducted its last poll of the year this week, surveying 1,008 representative German citizens about who they would currently give their vote to in the election.
Conservative CDU picks up pace
According to the survey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its Bavarian sister party CSU could have a particularly merry Christmas: it managed to increase its popularity by one percentage point from the last survey on December 6, bringing it to 40 percent. The rival Social Democratic party (SPD) stands unchanged at 30 percent, while the Greens have yielded a little to 13 percent. The Left party (Die Linkspartei) would also stand unchanged at 13 percent if the election were to occur this Sunday.
The Free Democratic party (FDP) and the Pirate party (Piratenpartei) do not have as much to celebrate, as they have not managed to get themselves out of their slump. According to the Infratest survey, the FDP would grab four percent of the vote, the Pirates only three percent. Neither party would clear the five-percent hurdle to secure seats in the German parliament.
Although two other research institutes - Forsa and Insa - registered the FDP this week at five percent, it is little comfort to the free-market liberal party, which is currently in a governing coalition with the CDU. For FDP party leader Philipp Rösler, that means using the holidays to gear up for the traditional meeting on the Feast of the Epiphany - January 6 - in Stuttgart. There, delegates will expect Rösler to lead the party out of their muck in the electoral year. The FDP will be put to its first test as early as January 20, when Lower Saxony holds state elections. Things will get tough for Rösler if the FDP does not do well in that vote.
Given the weak state of the FDP at the moment, it is unlikely the CDU would continue in coalition with the party after next fall's election. And a CDU gaining in force could also give a possible SPD-Greens coalition a run for its money.
So politicians are wrapping up this year with in various moods. For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the holidays mean a few days of rest and relaxation - something she can use before things pick up in 2013 for the election.
In the midst of the Crimean crisis, US President Barack Obama is set to host Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. The meeting, observers say, is a signal that could not be clearer.
Luxembourg has stalled European Union efforts to crack down on tax evaders. Finance ministers from EU countries have though made progress on setting up an agency to control rogue banks.
Crimea's Parliament has said if the region votes to join Russia it'll declare itself independent and propose to become part of Russia. Europe's security and democracy watchdog has called the upcoming referendum illegal.