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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Germany’s grand coalition with SPD might unfold only in 2018

Merkel was handed a political lifeline by the SPD

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BERLIN, Germany - A week after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fourth term was thrown into doubt, now talks on a new German ‘grand coalition’ look likely.

However, after three-way coalition talks with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens collapsed, now a top official in Merkel’s conservative camp has said that talks on forming a new German “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD) may not begin until next year.

This would, however, prolong the uncertainty in Europe’s largest economy after Merkel was handed a political lifeline by the SPD on Friday.

The SPD, which had earlier pledged to go into opposition, reversed its stance after facing intense pressure to preserve stability and avoid new elections.

Late last week, SPD agreed to discuss supporting a Merkel government, raising the prospect of a continuation of the grand coalition, which has ruled for the past four years, or a minority government.

According to Julia Kloeckner, vice-chair of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), talks may not begin until the new year, more than three months after the national election in which the two biggest parties suffered punishing losses.

Speaking to ARD television, she said, “Thoroughness comes before speed. I expect talks to begin in the new year,” adding a plea for the SPD not to set out red lines that might hinder talks before they start.

SPD leader Martin Schulz meanwhile has pledged to give members a vote on any deal the party reaches with Merkel. 

Many members of the party currently advocate a looser arrangement in which the SPD agrees to tolerate a Merkel-led minority government, supporting or at least agreeing not to vote against certain measures.

According to a poll for RTL and NTV television, 48 percent of SPD members are in favour of toleration, which would be an inherently less stable form of government, and 36 percent are in favour of a renewed grand coalition.

For Merkel, the last chance of securing a fourth term as chancellor is the SPD after the collapse of talks with the FDP and the Greens.

Most experts believe this gives SPD more leverage despite their election losses.

SPD too might be planning to use this leverage as SPD vice-chair Ralf Stegner has already called on Merkel’s camp to pave the way for talks with “confidence-building” measures, including worker-friendly employment legislation the SPD has long backed.

The Social Democrats have also started haggling over terms of a renewed coalition with Merkel’s conservative bloc.

Merkel is now scheduled to brief the media and has made it clear that her coalition partner would have to support a balanced budget and broadly pro-business policies. 

The list of demands from the SPD meanwhile includes higher pensions and income tax cuts for low earners.

Jens Spahn, a board member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and deputy finance minister, told German public radio on Monday, “The first step now is to have serious discussions about a grand coalition. This also means, however, that no one builds up demands that the other party definitely can’t meet.”

On Thursday, Merkel and Schulz are due to meet at the invitation of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is urging party leaders to find a way to avoid new elections.

Further, the SPD’s convention, which starts on December 7, will be a key event for the talks. 

Armin Laschet, head of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia, told reporters Monday in Berlin, that ultimately, a government could be in place at the beginning of 2018 after the parties have the chance to “carefully negotiate terms.”

Laschet said, “Then, Germany can get on with the difficult questions” such as Brexit and EU reforms, which the Grand Coalition “can help resolve.”

 

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