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08 October 2013

Exploratory talks in Germany - the long route to the next coalition government

Angela Merkel's CDU is meeting with representatives of the SPD and the Green Party to explore the options for forming a coalition government.

Mainly translated from the German

CDU and CSU, which are just five seats short of an absolute majority in the new German Bundestag, say they favour a "stable" coalition, ruling out a minority government, reports Bloomberg. This means that Merkel will have to find a partner in the SPD or Greens to avoid new elections.

After first exploratory talks with the SPD, the WSJ reports that senior officials of Germany's Social Democrats have signalled that they would be prepared to abandon their demand for tax increases if Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative grouping can credibly identify other sources to fund necessary investments. SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel, in an interview with Sunday's Bild newspaper, said that tax increases, for the SPD, are "no end in itself". A second round of talks is scheduled for Monday, 14th October.

Speaker for the SPD conservatives, Johannes Kahrs, is reported by Spiegel Online to have set down as a condition for a grand coalition that the SPD would get the Treasury. However, he was heavily criticised by his own party colleagues for this, who said the exploratory talks were about policies, not posts. According to the Handelsblatt, SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel has stipulated the introduction of a minimum wage, labour market reforms and more money for education as the three core demands of his party for the exploratory talks with the Union – the question of ministries and tax increases were notably not among them.

This is also refered to by the Independent which writes that the minimum wage may be forced on Angela Merkel in order to build a grand coalition. Ms Merkel has so far insisted that there should be little change to the status quo which she says should be merely extended. However, with the SPD, the unions and the Greens all in favour of a minimum wage, Ms Merkel may find herself obliged to agree.

As reported by the German heute TV news programme, CSU chief Horst Seehofer has confirmed that a more intimate exploratory meeting would take place between only him, Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel on Friday, 11th October.

Bloomberg reported that Merkel’s party allies said a partnership with the environmental Greens is realistic, raising pressure on the Social Democrats. The CDU has managed to change public perception and their own position on a coalition with the Greens from "theoretical" to "conceivable", according to the FAZ and City AM. "We’re approaching these talks with the same seriousness as we do with the Social Democrats", Hermann Groehe, the CDU’s general secretary and a member of his party’s seven-person negotiating team, told reporters. He said the party didn’t pre-judge any outcome with the Greens. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group Volker Kauder is reported to have said in the same vein at a recent meeting that the CDU was expecting a second round of exploratory talks to take place with the Greens as well as the SPD. A date for these talks has so far not been fixed.

Bloomberg quoted the Greens co-leader Claudia Roth as having said that her party would enter into exploratory talks with Merkel "on the basis of the programme for which we were elected", even though she was sceptical of the chances of success.

Before the exploratory talks with the CDU, the Green Party has moved away from their campaign call for tax increases, reports the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "We have scared away many voters with the call for higher taxes", said Green Party leader Cem Özdemir. The task now was to regain the support of the middle class.

The candidate for chairwoman of the parliamentary group of the Greens, Kerstin Andreae, commented that environmental issues were the priority for her party and if there were other ways than tax increases to finance the pending tasks such as the energy turnaround or infrastructure projects, those would be welcomed by the Greens. "However, we remain firmly opposed to new debt", she emphasised. In a further article by the FAZ, Finance Minister Schäuble has stated his conviction that investments in education and infrastructure would be possible without tax increases. The task was to implement a reasonable fiscal policy in Germany, he said.

Die Welt reports that within the SDP, the possibility of a CDU/Green coalition is received with a variety of responses. Leader of the Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein, Torsten Albig, warned his SPD to go into the opposition, doubting whether that would increase their chances at the 2017 next general election. More conservative representatives and the members on the very left wing of the SPD, however, openly encouraged the CDU to pursue coalition talks with the Greens who would be "cheaper" in terms of concessions to be made in negotiations.

The Economist even entitled an article "Afraid of Angela" – referring to the SPD’s disastrous election result after the last grand coalition with the CDU during Angela Merkel’s first term. Mr Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier both support another grand coalition, presumably with plum ministerial posts for themselves. But they have a formidable rival in Hannelore Kraft, who is leading those Social Democrats opposed to a grand coalition. Ms Kraft is a deputy leader of the SPD and premier of North-Rhine Westphalia; she is popular and seen as a possible candidate for chancellor in 2017, aiming to campaign vigorously from the left in the next campaign.

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