External Affairs

German Parties Find Some Common Ground in Coalition Talks

Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), arrives at the German Parliamentary Society offices before the start of exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Axel Schmidt

Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), arrives at the German Parliamentary Society offices before the start of exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Axel Schmidt

Berlin: Parties seeking to form Germany’s next government found common ground in areas of social policy and digital infrastructure on Monday, but remain far apart on issues that provoked stormy clashes last week.

Talks between conservatives, Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) resumed on Monday after Chancellor Angela Merkel convened a weekend meeting to clear the air between ideologically diverse parties forced by electoral arithmetic into awkward partnership.

“The weekend pause for thought did us good,” said Andreas Scheuer, a leader in the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). Other party leaders agreed.

Leaders of the German Green Party Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Cem Ozdemir arrive at the German Parliamentary Society offices before the start of exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Axel Schmidt

Leaders of the German Green Party Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Cem Ozdemir arrive at the German Parliamentary Society offices before the start of exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Axel Schmidt

But Monday’s talks, on education, digitalisation, pensions and labour issues, as well as domestic security, were always expected to be less contentious than the immigration, fiscal and climate policies that divided them last week.

One sign of the division came in an interview Merkel ally Peter Altmaier gave to the newspaper Die Zeit, where he shot down media reports about a reshuffling of ministerial portfolios. Der Spiegel magazine reported the FDP might head a weakened finance ministry, with key European affairs functions hived off to another ministry.

“The finance ministry is a strong ministry and should remain so in future,” Altmaier told Die Zeit. Altmaier runs Merkel’s office and has been acting finance minister since Wolfgang Schaeuble’s move agreed last month to leave the post and become president of parliament.

Chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner, leader of the German Green Party Katrin Goering-Eckardt, federal state premier of Hessen Volker Bouffier and leader of the German Green Party Cem Ozdemir seen on a balcony of German Parliamentary Society offices during the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government held by CDU/CSU in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Axel Schmidt

Chairman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Christian Lindner, leader of the German Green Party Katrin Goering-Eckardt, federal state premier of Hessen Volker Bouffier and leader of the German Green Party Cem Ozdemir seen on a balcony of German Parliamentary Society offices during the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government held by CDU/CSU in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Axel Schmidt

 

Negotiators emerged on Monday with a document spelling out areas where they had reached an agreement, including commitments to the universal gigabit-speed internet by 2025, and spending 3.5% of economic output on research and development.

After discussions that ran late into the evening, they also signed up to Merkel’s election campaign pledge of achieving full employment, without giving a specific target date.

Merkel, whose conservatives came first but lost seats in the September 24 national elections must forge a so-called “Jamaica” coalition – named because the three camps’ colours match that country’s flag – that is untested at national level.

Three more rounds of more detailed exploratory talks are planned for this week and four for next. If successful, the parties can then begin formal coalition talks.