Mon, Jan 08, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Merkel launches talks with SPD in bid for fourth term

Reuters, BERLIN

More than three months after a general election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is still scrambling to form a new government and was yesterday to launch a five-day attempt to persuade the Social Democrats (SPD) to join a coalition with her conservatives.

The SPD reluctantly agreed to exploratory talks and is playing hard-to-get. Enticing them to team up with her is Merkel’s best bet of forming a stable government and extending her 12-year tenure after her efforts to form an alliance with two smaller parties failed last year.

The SPD, which has governed in a “grand coalition” with Merkel’s conservatives for the past four years, vowed to go into opposition after its worst election showing since 1933, but reconsidered when the German president intervened.

Opposition to such a tie-up is strong in the SPD — a group called “NoGroKo,” meaning “no grand coalition” — has formed within its ranks to campaign against working with Merkel again, saying that it would cost the SPD votes and make the far-right Alternative for Germany opposition leader.

“We shouldn’t make things sound better than they are — the SPD is very skeptical about a rerun of the grand coalition,” senior SPD member Manuela Schwesig said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio.

Norbert Roemer, SPD head in the regional assembly of North Rhine-Westphalia state, told the RND newspaper group that no MPs in his state caucus favored a grand coalition, with past experience meaning they no longer trusted Merkel.

The grand coalition idea — usually a last resort as it leaves the opposition small — is unpopular, with a poll by broadcaster ARD showing that 52 percent of Germans are skeptical, while 45 percent are in favor.

Volker Bouffier, a senior member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told Rheinische Post newspaper that his party intended to form a grand coalition.

However, “whether that will succeed is yet to be seen. It can’t happen at any price,” he said.

SPD parliamentary leader Andrea Nahles sounded a conciliatory note, saying that she would not draw any red lines ahead of the talks, telling Bild am Sonntag newspaper that “negotiations mean you don’t get 100 percent of your own demands fulfilled.”

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