Angela Merkel braces for intensive negotiations in German coalition talks

Chancellor welcomes SPD vote to begin negotiations but both sides have vocal doubters

Angela Merkel has welcomed the Social Democrats’ decision to enter into formal coalition talks, even as the party’s leader signalled he would try to wring concessions from her before putting the final deal to members in a postal ballot.

“The path for coalition negotiations is now clear,” said the German chancellor, appearing relieved after the SPD’s vote on the issue on Sunday. She said she would strive to create an economically stable government and would prioritise social justice and security.

Merkel, who now seems more likely to secure a fourth term as chancellor, said she fully expected changes to be made on key issues in a 28-page coalition blueprint, calling the document a “framework” that would be “of course intensively negotiated”.

Merkel’s conservatives have said they will work towards forming a new government by Easter. Martin Schulz, the SPD leader, said on Monday he was looking to renegotiate parts of the blueprint, despite strong opposition to concessions within the conservative ranks of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the allied Christian Social Union (CSU).

Both party leaders recognise that with large numbers of the SPD’s rank and file unhappy with the decision to talk, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty as to whether party members will give the final deal their blessing.

Just over 56% of party delegates at a conference in Bonn voted in favour of a grand coalition, or GroKo, but the decision was met with a lukewarm response both within the conference hall and beyond. Schulz said afterwards he had a “duty to fight for all those who had voted against”.

The Jusos, or young Social Democrats, led the opposition to holding talks, warning party members that a third grand coalition in 12 years could prove so unpopular that it could spell the demise of Germany’s oldest political force. They argued that the party, whose popularity ratings have sunk to around 18% in the last few days, would be better able to renew its fortunes in opposition.

A poll commissioned by Der Spiegel magazine indicated that a majority of the German public was against a new GroKo, with more than half of 5,000 respondents rating the decision negatively and 40% viewing it positively.

The biggest opposition was among the 18-29 age group, making up 65.6% of those who viewed it negatively, whilst those in the 65-plus group made up 53.5% of those who viewed it positively.

Merkel held a preliminary meeting with Schulz and Horst Seehofer, the CSU leader, on Monday ahead of formal talks that are expected to begin early this week.

Key sticking points include changes to the family reunion rules for refugees, a move towards a “citizen’s insurance” to replace private and public healthcare and a tightening of rules for short-term employment contracts.

Among the critics of the SPD’s decision were the far-left Die Linke, one of whose leaders compared it to “committing hara-kiri”, a reference to the Japanese practice of ritual suicide.

Jörg Meuthen, a leader of the far-right populist Alternative für Deutschland, which is poised to become the strongest opposition in the Bundestag in the event of the GroKo going ahead, said the SPD was “on a trundling blind flight”.

Much of the commentary on Monday focused on Schulz, a former European parliament president whose career would have been in tatters had the SPD not voted for a GroKo.

Stating that he was not yet out of hot water, the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung said it would be little surprise if the SPD decided against a grand coalition after all the months during which Schulz had campaigned “as if a government with the CDU and Angela Merkel was as contaminating as atomic waste”.

If the deal worked out, the SPD would have no choice but to get behind it, the paper continued. “If the party enters a coalition with the reluctance of a passenger with a fear of flying entering a Boeing 747, they will only continue in a downward spiral.”


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Germany's SPD denies agreeing coalition talks with Angela Merkel
Leader Martin Schulz says reports are ‘plainly and simply’ wrong but that his party will continue to explore all options

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

01, Dec, 2017 @3:10 PM

Article image
Pressure grows on SPD to reconsider coalition talks with Angela Merkel
Germany’s president to meet SPD leader on Thursday as he faces calls to help end political paralysis

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

23, Nov, 2017 @10:28 AM

Article image
German Greens drop car and coal policies in coalition talks with Merkel
Decision to drop key environmental issues welcomed by other negotiating parties but criticised by some supporters

Kate Connolly in Berlin

08, Nov, 2017 @9:23 AM

Article image
Obscure German law gives Angela Merkel a diplomatic headache
Turkish president wants German comedian prosecuted for satirical poem – and chancellor needs his support on refugees

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

14, Apr, 2016 @8:04 AM

Article image
Angela Merkel urged to ban Erdoğan over jailed German journalist
Chancellor under pressure to stop Turkish president from entering country while reporter Deniz Yücel is held in Istanbul jail

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

01, Mar, 2017 @5:54 PM

Article image
Olaf Scholz elected to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor
Former Hamburg mayor secures 395 of 736 delegates’ ballots in parliamentary vote

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

08, Dec, 2021 @1:33 PM

Article image
German election: Angela Merkel ahead, but coalition options unclear
It remains to be seen whether German chancellor will be able to form new centre-right government

Kate Connolly in Berlin

25, Sep, 2009 @7:48 PM

Article image
Collapse of German coalition talks underlines Merkel's weaknesses
The FDP’s Lindner has been painted as the villain but the chancellor must bear some responsibility for other parties’ reluctance to work with her CDU

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

20, Nov, 2017 @2:11 PM

Article image
Merkel coalition at risk as talks on refugee policy falter
Issue brings political deadlock in Germany and worsening row between Italy and France

Jon Henley and Kate Connolly in Berlin and Sam Jones in Madrid

14, Jun, 2018 @3:14 PM

Article image
Merkel faces tough coalition talks as nationalists enter German parliament
German chancellor’s centre-right alliance remains largest force in parliament, as far-right Alternative für Deutschland takes 13% of vote in Sunday’s election

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

25, Sep, 2017 @8:47 AM