New round of talks with Social Democrats set to start on Monday
Two weeks ago, Angela Merkel’s attempt to form a three-way coalition came to an abrupt end after her traditional ally, pro-Business Free Democrats (FDP), unexpectedly walked out of the talks, citing irreconcilable differences over immigration and other key issues. After failing to form the government in the first round, Merkel will hold a second round of talks — this time with the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD).
The new round of negotiations are expected to start as early as next week. Martin Schulz, the leader of the SPD, says he will enter coalition talks with Merkel if he manages to get a go-ahead at the party convention scheduled for Thursday. If Schulz fails to get a mandate at the convention, which is highly unlikely, Merkel will either be forced to form a minority government or the country will head for new elections. German newspaper Die Welt reported:
Schulz expects to see Merkel next week, provided the SPD party convention plays along. The “crucial” demands like family reunion (for the refugees) and the citizen’s insurance (single health insurance scheme) will not be mandatory for the talks, says the party chief (Schulz). (…)
The SPD-executive body has passed a 4-page document outlining the framework for “open-ended” talks with “other parties”. A vote to this effect is expected as early as Thursdays at the SPD party convention — following a speech by Schulz and the election of the party chairperson and his deputy. If the party gives a go-ahead — anything else will be surprising and will hurt the chairperson enormously — nothing would stand in the way of talks with the (conservative block) CDU and CSU. [Translation by the author]
Merkel has ruled out the prospect of running a minority government. But as another longtime German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck said, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.” Since September 24 vote, SPD has been refusing to “jump into bed with Merkel.” Schulz has been going around telling reporters that he is “not available for entering a grand coalition” and “not scared of fresh elections”.
SPD’s tanking post-election poll numbers and right-wing AfD party’s growing popularity convinced Schulz of the merits of a conservative-socialist “grand coalition” with Merkel at its helm. SPD, world’s oldest surviving socialist party, suffered its worst election outcome in nearly seven decades, with 21.5 percent of vote.
Merkel got off to a bad start this week after her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), suffered a coup, with right-wing rebels in the party seized control from the leader Horst Seehofer, a reliable Merkel ally. Seehofer will soon be making way for the hardliner Markus Söder.
Bavarian people “do not want a multicultural society,” Söder said last year, rejecting Merkel’s open arms migrant policy. “Even with the best intentions in the world, it will not work to integrate successfully that many people with a completely different cultural background.” With someone like Söder on her rear guard, Merkel won’t sleep easy, even if she manages to rope in SPD to form a government. “Intra-party conflict within the CSU could complicate Merkel’s effort to form a new government,” admitted the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
The atmosphere ahead of next week’s talks has been soured by a bitter infighting between cabinet colleagues in Merkel-led transition government with social-conservative CSU cabinet members showing their contempt for their SPD colleagues. Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt (CSU) angered the SPD-led Environment Ministry by backing the renewal of an EU licence for a controversial weedkiller for another five years — a measure opposed by the SPD — turning it into an embarrassment for Merkel just days ahead of the talks.
As things stand today, German political commentators and public have resigned themselves to the inevitability of four more years of Merkel. “All roads lead to Merkel,” wrote the German newspaper Die Welt. “But where is Chancellor [Merkel] heading to?,” the newspaper asked in bewilderment, pointing to Merkel’s recent attempts to woo diagonally opposed coalition partners from ecological Greens to libertarian Free Democrats, from Catholic-conservative CSU to left-wing SPD. The answer to that is simple: Merkel is master of political expediency. Only thing she deeply cares about is her own political survival, and right now, her fourth term as the German Chancellor. Either Social Democrats help her to the throne or she will force a new election upon the reluctant electorates in two months time.
[Cover image via Youtube]
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