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5TH LEAD Merkel facing tough final round of talks to forge new government By Andrew McCathie, dpa

Europe
21.01.2018
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Bonn, Germany (dpa) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now facing a tough final round of talks to forge a new government after the Social Democrats (SPD) gave a less-than-ringing endorsement on Sunday to coalition negotiations with her conservatives.

"The way is free for coalition negotiations," said Merkel on Sunday night, while warning that party leaders faced "a lot of work" in the coming weeks as they edge their way along the long and tortuous path to forge a new government, four months after inconclusive elections.

SPD leader Martin Schulz told German public television that Merkel‘s conservatives could expect "tough negotiations" to build a new coalition government with his party after only 56.4 per cent of the delegates attending a special SPD conference voted their approval.

Of the 642 delegates attending the conference in the former German capital of Bonn, 362 had voted to back launching coalition negotiations with Merkel‘s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The vote was "a key moment" in the SPD‘s 154-year history, Schulz told the conference, which had turned into a showdown between party leadership and rank-and-file opponents against joining with Merkel.

"Of course we will continue to negotiate," Schulz said, adding that the coalition negotiations with Merkel‘s bloc would clear the way for improvements in areas that had already been agreed to, such as labour law, refugee family reunions and a restructuring of health insurance.

Still, 279 SPD members voted on Sunday for the party to go into the opposition to regroup after suffering its worst result since 1949 in the September election.

Schulz insisted in an interview with German news channel N-TV that he now had a mandate to hold the coalition talks but conceded that his party was split over whether to renew the coalition with Merkel.

The reluctance of large sections of the SPD to back the chancellor for a fourth term in office underlines the pressure Schulz faces in negotiating a new coalition agreement with Merkel and the need for him to deliver in several areas.

Coalition talks could now begin as early as Monday, CSU leader Horst Seehofer said ahead of a meeting of his party executive in Munich.

He and other CDU/CSU leaders rejected the SPD‘s calls to improve upon the results of preliminary negotiations that form the basis of the talks. "I don‘t see any possibilities there," he said on Sunday.

Merkel, who has called for talks to be wrapped up by the middle of next month, did not say Sunday how much change she would be willing to accept after the fact to the results from the preliminary talks.

They are the "parameters under which we‘ll negotiate," she said.

Her CDU party executive also met on Sunday to consider the ramifications of the SPD vote.

The SPD has been the junior member of a Merkel-led coalition for eight of her more than 12 years in power, including the last four.

Merkel herself still has another hurdle to overcome before she can be sworn in again as chancellor: The SPD‘s roughly 450,000 grass-root members still have to vote on any coalition deal that their party and the CDU-CSU agree to in the upcoming negotiations.

An SPD party vote rejecting the coalition accord could end Schulz‘s year-long leadership of the SPD and throw into doubt Merkel‘s political future, after she failed in November at her first attempt to form a coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the environmental Greens.

In his conference speech, the SPD chief also ruled out early elections as an alternative to rejoining Merkel in a new coalition.

But amid the drawn-out political drama in Berlin over forming a new government, support for the SPD has sunk to 18 per cent in recent polls, down from the 20.5 per cent it garnered at the September poll.

A leader of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), Joerg Meuthen, also seized on the SPD‘s vote on the coalition, saying it meant that the AfD had taken one step closer to becoming the nation‘s second major political force behind the CDU-CSU.

In his opening gambit for the coalition talks, Schulz had also ruled out an upper limit for the number of refugees entering Germany, consequently placing the SPD on a collision course with the CSU, which has insisted on a ceiling placed on new arrivals.

In addition, Schulz said any cabinet the SPD was a member of would be evenly divided between men and women, and that the renewal of Europe would be at the centre of a new Merkel-led government with the SPD.

 

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