January 24, 2019

Exploratory coalition talks between Germany's major parties end ahead of crucial decision

12 January 2018, 04:27 | Devin Moran

Exploratory coalition talks between Germany's major parties end ahead of crucial decision

German coalition talks enter crunch stage amid ongoing setbacks

After the week of negotiations and the overnight session, a visibly exhausted Merkel told reporters that she, too, was now "optimistic that things will move forward" to forming a new coalition of the same parties that have run Germany for the past four years.

The understanding on that topic, following compromises on tax and carbon emissions policy achieved on Monday, indicates the parties could strike a deal to end the political impasse in Germany more than three months after the national election.

Merkel's conservative Union bloc and the Social Democrats have run Germany together for the past four years.

Opinion polls suggest most Germans are less than enthusiastic about a new conservative-SPD alliance. "And they're fed up". Chancellor Merkel has outright rejected the idea. The Bavarian party is facing a September state election and knows anything less than a hard, conservative line on these points will hurt its weakening voter base.

"The mood is like the weather", Ralf Stegner, one of the SPD's deputy leaders, said as he gazed at the cloudy sky above Berlin ahead of yesterday's talks, as reported by Reuters.

Everything was at stake for Merkel and the other party leaders in the marathon talks.

"We are convinced that we need a new awakening for Europe". The financial daily Handelsblatt reported that the government had a stronger-than-expected surplus in 2017 and that, combined with unused funds earmarked for asylum seekers, means it has 10.4 billion euros more to spend than planned.

Aware the world was watching, she was unwilling to allow talks break up without agreement.

Weakened by an election setback in September, Merkel turned to the left-leaning SPD to renew their grand coalition after the collapse in November of talks on a three-way coalition with the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP).

The 28-page deal reached in a marathon negotiating session that lasted more than 24 hours at the end of almost a week of talks was enough for leaders of Merkel's two-party Union bloc and the Social Democrats to recommend moving on to formal coalition negotiations.

If the exploratory discussions succeed, SPD leaders will seek approval for full-scale coalition talks at a special party convention on January 21, backing that is not guaranteed.

It is Germany's longest ever post-war period of coalition-building and there is still a long way to go before a coalition deal can be clinched.

After suffering its worst election result since 1993, the SPD wanted to stay in opposition, and agreed to consider another coalition with conservatives only under pressure from Steinmeier.

The Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) managed to secure 94 out of 709 seats in the German parliament. But Mrs Merkel won't be cracking open the Sekt straight away.

Germans view migration as the most urgent matter for the next government to deal with, according to an Infratest Dimap poll for Handelsblatt newspaper published Thursday.

"Governments are supposed to drive change on issues where the country is hurting: security, schools, road, the jobs of the future", Bild said in its editorial. "Another big disappointment would be political poison".

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