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03 October 2013

German coalition talks to start on Friday - Press round-up

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Angela Merkel's CDU will conduct talks with both the SPD and the Greens, but negotiations are expected to take weeks. The SPD would need an all member referendum to ratify a possible grand coalition; tax increases are a topic of contention; and the Greens insist on a focus on climate protection.

Partly translated from the German

The Financial Times (subscription required) reported that first exploratory talks towards forming a new German government will start on Friday, the two main parties, Angela Merkel's CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed. Andrea Nahles, secretary-general of the Social Democratic party, warned however that there might be no final agreement before December or even January. "There is no reason for urgency and it's up to Ms Merkel to try and form a government", she said. 

An emergency convention last Friday night of senior SPD figures overwhelmingly endorsed beginning exploratory talks with Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU on forming a Grand Coalition, although without any commitment to reaching a final agreement. There was no guarantee that the first round of talks would lead to formal negotiations, wrote the FT (subscription required) because the SPD must first consult a 200-strong party convention before it can go ahead. And even then, a formal grand coalition can only be formed if it is approved by a referendum of all 470,000 SPD members, the leadership decided last week.

In spite of the fact that a grand coalition is the most popular solution for voters (Politbarometer opinion poll) and there is widespread expectation that such a solution will eventually come about, the SPD rank-and-file are deeply unhappy about the prospect. The same poll suggested that 65 per cent of party members opposed it.

Both the SPD and Ms Merkel’s CDU, along with the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union, its smaller sister party, have been laying down their preconditions for talks, with most centred on whether any deal will involve tax increases – proposed by the SPD and opposed by the CDU, as reported by Handelsblatt. In an interview with Bild, Hannelore Kraft, the SPD Premier of Nordrhein-Westfallen, argued that "there will not be a grand coalition at any cost". 

In another article, the Handelsblatt reported further that the CDU/CSU has also invited the Greens to exploratory talks. The first meeting should take place at the end of next week. The Greens had already decided to accept such an invitation - even if a black-green alliance is considered extremely unlikely in their own ranks.

Writing in the Süddeutsche ZeitungMichael König sketches what steps might be required in order that a CDU/CSU and Green coalition could actually be realised: 

  • There is a lot of resistance within the SPD against entering into a Grand Coalition with the CDU again. In the referendum on a potential coalition agreement, a majority might vote against it. This would mean that the CDU would orientate itself further towards the Greens, who know that in case of new elections they would not be likely to improve their result. 
  • The more "realpolitische" and less idealistic and leftist wing of the Greens gains momentum - as seems to have been happening in the aftermath of the elections. 
  • The CSU and the leaders of the Green party agree to enter into serious discussions - previously their aversion had been only too clear in speculations about possible coalition constellations. 
  • The CDU and Greens concentrate on the areas where their election programmes overlap rather than diverge - for topics such as the child care subsidy, energy policies and minimum wages, compromises are possible.

The Süddeutsche cites Axel Schäfer, deputy chair of the SPD’s parliamentary faction as warning that until a new government is formed, Angela Merkel "no longer has the legitimacy to make decisions over fundamental questions of European policy", referring to the European Council summit on 22 October, during which issues such as improving the EU’s competitiveness are due to be discussed. 

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