Merkel urged to swiftly seal repeat coalition with SPD

Social Democrats make u-turn after breakdown of talks with Free Democrats and Greens to allow for repeat of grand coalition

German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Angela Merkel, gives a talk  in her home state of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, on November 25, 2017, in Kuehlungsborn, northern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / dpa / Bernd Wüstneck)
German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Angela Merkel, gives a talk in her home state of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, on November 25, 2017, in Kuehlungsborn, northern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / dpa / Bernd Wüstneck)

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany (AFP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced growing calls Sunday to clinch a repeat coalition deal with the Social Democrats, after they dropped their initial resistance to help end Germany’s political deadlock.

Merkel has been scrambling to avert snap elections after arduous talks to form a new government with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning Greens broke down a week ago.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz had vowed to go into opposition after a disappointing showing in September’s general election, but in a U-turn Friday said he was ready for talks with Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc.

Bavaria’s powerful state premier Horst Seehofer, a key Merkel ally, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that a repeat left-right “grand coalition” was the right way forward.

German leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Martin Schulz speaks during a press conference on November 24, 2017 in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL)

“An alliance between the conservatives and the SPD is the best option for Germany, better in any case than ‘Jamaica,’ new elections or a minority government,” said Seehofer, who heads Merkel’s Bavarian CSU sister party.

The failed three-way tie-up between the CDU/CSU, the Greens and the FDP had been dubbed “Jamaica” because the parties’ colors match those of the Caribbean country’s flag.

Seehofer warned the SPD however that there would not be a deal at any cost.

“I can only advise the SPD not to enter into talks with the conservatives with exaggerated demands, but to stay realistic,” he told the daily.

“There shouldn’t be a grand coalition at any price.”

Merkel, who has balked at the idea of a repeat election, on Saturday said she wanted to form a government “very soon.”

Talks with the SPD should be based on “mutual respect” and “compromise,” she added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Paul Ziemiak, leader of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party’s youth organisation Junge Union, during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on November 21, 2017 in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN)

Piling on the pressure, the youth wing of Merkel’s CDU party called for a deal on another “GroKo,” as the grand coalition is known in Germany, to be in place by Christmas.

If the two sides cannot reach an agreement by then, “the conservatives should aim for a minority government,” Paul Ziemiak, head of the CDU youth, was quoted as saying by Bild.

He too warned against making too many concessions to the SPD, urging the CDU to stand firm on stricter migration policies and its commitment to a balanced budget.

Muscle flexing

Leading SPD politicians however signaled they were ready to flex their muscles.

“Ms. Merkel is in no position to dictate terms,” said the SPD’s Malu Dreyer, premier of Rhineland-Palatinate state.

The Social Democrats centered their campaign on building a more socially just Germany, pledging more investment in education and infrastructure.

Bavaria’s State Premier Horst Seehofer (C), also leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party, leaves Bellevue Palace in Berlin after talks with the German president, on November 22, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / dpa / Wolfgang Kumm)

Merkel, who is eyeing a fourth term, will meet with top brass from her CDU party on Sunday evening to discuss the next steps.

A breakthrough could come Thursday, when President Frank-Walter Steinmeier hosts talks between Merkel, Seehofer and Schulz.

An Emnid survey for the Bild newspaper on Sunday showed that 52 percent of Germans were in favor of a repeat grand coalition.

‘Smells like GroKo’

Schulz had categorically ruled out another stint as junior coalition partner after four years of governing in Merkel’s shadow led the SPD to its worst result in decades in the September 24 poll.

But with Europe’s top economy facing prolonged political uncertainty after the collapse of the Jamaica talks, and with fears that snap polls would mainly benefit the far-right AfD, Schulz caved to demands to soften his stance.

Leading Greens MP Claudia Roth told Deutschlandfunk radio she doubted whether another GroKo was the best outcome, given its “anesthetizing” effect on the country last time.

“But it smells like it (another grand coalition),” she said.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who triggered the crisis when he pulled out of the Jamaica talks last Sunday, also said he expected to see the SPD agree to another stint in government.

“The hurdles are lower for them than for us,” Lindner told Bild.

A “Jamaica” coalition would have “shattered into a thousand pieces within months,” he added, given the parties’ differing views on everything from migration to climate protection to eurozone reforms.

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