Tue, Feb 06, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Merkel, SDP talks on new government head into overtime


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is allowing extra time for talks on renewing her government alliance with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), suggesting that a deal is within reach.

With Merkel’s fourth term hanging in the balance, party negotiators were scheduled to resume talks yesterday in Berlin.

A Sunday target date for concluding a coalition pact came and went, extending the country’s longest political stalemate since World War II.

While the chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) see the talks as being on the home stretch, the Social Democrats are holding out for concessions on labor rules and healthcare they can sell to their base, which has the final say on any coalition agreement.

The two sides were approaching an agreement, but might need more time to finalize a deal, Volker Kauder, Merkel’s caucus chief in the German Bundestag, said ahead of the talks

“If the atmosphere continues as yesterday and everyone wants it, then it’s possible that we reach a deal today,” North Rhine-Westphalia Premier Armin Laschet, a CDU member, said yesterday on ZDF television.

The prospective coalition partner was more hesitant. SDP lawmaker Karl Lauterbach told ZDF that the prospects of a deal yesterday “are 50/50.”

“It will be a long evening,” Hesse Premier Volker Bouffier, a CDU member, told reporters in Berlin.

More than four months after her CDU-led bloc won an inconclusive national election, Merkel remains at the helm as acting chancellor.

She has governed with the Social Democrats for eight of her 12 years in office, but many SPD members are wary, blaming the last four years with her for the party’s electoral decline.

After a breakthrough last week on refugee policy, two key SPD demands remain on the table: curbing the use of temporary work contracts, and overhauling the national healthcare system to prevent doctors from billing higher fees for privately insured patients.

The CDU and its Bavaria-based Christian Social Union sister party have balked at both.

“These are the final outstanding issues,” acting German Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat, said on ARD late on Sunday.

He said he was confident a draft deal would be concluded yesterday.

Any coalition pact would be put to a vote by the SPD’s more than 440,000 members.

A rejection would force Merkel to consider governing without a stable parliamentary majority or put Germany on track for another election, which polls suggest would turn out largely like the vote in September.

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