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1ST LEAD Merkel meets party leaders to prep for Sunday coalition talks By Andrew McCathie, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - The leaders of Germany‘s Christian Democrats (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) were joined by federal and state ministers on Wednesday when they met to lay out a plan for talks on Sunday about a potential coalition government.

"We are starting negotiations optimistically," according to a statement from the parties distributed after the meeting in Berlin.

Divisions over refugees, military spending and education between Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s CDU/CSU conservative bloc and the centre-left SPD could provide fodder for clashes on Sunday, when the parties will launch the first round of talks for a new coalition following an inconclusive election more than three months ago.

Germany has now been without a government for the longest period since World War II after the CDU/CSU and SPD suffered their worst results since 1949 at the September 24 election.

A solid base had been established "from which we can begin the talks," Martin Schulz, head of the SPD, said at the end of Wednesday‘s meeting.

The SPD objects to the Bavaria-based CSU‘s hard-line stance on refugees, its call for a sharp increase in the nation‘s military budget as well as placing limits on European integration and curtailing education reforms.

The SPD was forced to consider rejoining a Merkel-led coalition  after the collapse in November of talks to forge a three-way alliance to rule Europe‘s biggest economy.

Despite the reluctance among SPD members, the party has agreed that its leader, Martin Schulz, should meet Merkel along with CSU leader Horst Seehofer to consider forging a new coalition. CDU/CSU and SPD parliamentary leaders are also to attend the talks.

But the coalition talks are now being further complicated by this year‘s state election in Bavaria, with the CSU gearing up for a tough campaign to head off the threat posed to the party‘s support by the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The SPD talks with the CDU/CSU are due to conclude on January 12.

However, an SPD party conference planned for January 21 is to decide whether to launch formal coalition negotiations with the CDU/CSU, with a new government unlikely to be taking up the reins of power until possibly April. An SPD vote in December had only approved exploratory talks.


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