Break­through af­ter marathon talks on Ger­man coali­tion deal

The Herald - - INTERNATIONAL - KIRSTEN GRIESHABER FRANK JORDANS

LEAD­ERS of Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s con­ser­va­tive Union bloc and the cen­tre-left So­cial Democrats agreed early yes­ter­day on the ba­sis to move ahead with coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions, af­ter marathon overnight talks.

Mrs Merkel’s Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, the Bavar­ian-only Chris­tian So­cial Union and the So­cial Democrats pro­duced a 28-page doc­u­ment out­lin­ing their com­pro­mise po­si­tions on a wide range of is­sues, in­clud­ing taxes, mi­gra­tion and health care.

“Many, many hours of work, se­ri­ous wran­gling and shap­ing are con­tained in these 28 pages,” tweeted CDU law­maker Ju­lia Kloeck­ner, part of Mrs Merkel’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team.

So­cial Demo­cratic leader Martin Schulz said: “I think we have achieved out­stand­ing re­sults. For us, what we have writ­ten in this pre­lim­i­nary agree­ment is not rhetoric, we mean it very se­ri­ously.”

He still faces the ma­jor hur­dles of get­ting his party to ap­prove en­ter­ing for­mal coali­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions with Mrs Merkel’s conservatives, as well as any coali­tion agree­ment, but said it was a good in­di­ca­tor of sup­port that his 13-mem­ber ne­go­ti­at­ing team had de­cided unan­i­mously to rec­om­mend go­ing ahead with talks.

Af­ter the week of ne­go­ti­a­tions and the overnight ses­sion, an ob­vi­ously tired Mrs Merkel told re­porters she too was “op­ti­mistic that things will move for­ward”.

“We are work­ing se­ri­ously ... on cre­at­ing the con­di­tions to be able to live well in Ger­many in 10 or 15 years,” she said.

“We dealt with ques­tions of in­vest­ment for the fu­ture,” she added, point­ing to ed­u­ca­tion, dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion, en­ergy and con­struc­tion as ma­jor is­sues.

Horst See­hofer, leader of the Chris­tian So­cial Union, added that if the So­cial Democrats give the green light, an agree­ment may be reached be­fore Easter with the cur­rent mo­men­tum.

“If we suc­ceed, these could be four very, very good years – I am al­ready speak­ing of these years be­cause I be­lieve we will suc­ceed,” he said.

Had the talks failed, Mrs Merkel’s only op­tions would have been to form a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment or hold new elec­tions.

So­cial Demo­crat spokesman Serkan Agci told re­porters out­side his party’s head­quar­ters, where the talks took place, that there had been a “break­through” agreed upon by the party lead­ers but said fi­nal re­vi­sions were still be­ing made on the doc­u­ment by ne­go­ti­at­ing teams, which would also need ap­proval.

De­tails were to be an­nounced later yes­ter­day, but ac­cord­ing to a draft copy the sides agreed to keep the top tax rate at 42 per cent rather than raise it to 45 as the So­cial Democrats had wanted, and to limit the num­ber of mi­grant fam­ily mem­bers who will be al­lowed to join asy­lum seek­ers in Ger­many, as well as the over­all num­ber of mi­grants al­lowed in the coun­try each year, the dpa news agency re­ported.

They also agreed to sev­eral is­sues pushed by the So­cial Democrats, in­clud­ing sta­bil­isz­ing pen­sion pay­ments, in­creas­ing money for fam­i­lies with chil­dren, bet­ter fi­nanc­ing of day­care and free kinder­gartens, dpa re­ported.

The pa­per calls for in­creased Ger­man fi­nanc­ing for the Euro­pean Union so that it can strengthen its in­sti­tu­tions.

The fi­nal ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion be­tween the sides be­gan on Thurs­day and par­tic­i­pants, who had al­ready worked all week, worked through the night to come to the agree­ment.

De­spite the agree­ment, the pos­si­bil­ity of a new coali­tion of Mrs Merkel’s bloc with the So­cial Democrats, as gov­erned Ger­many in the out­go­ing gov­ern­ment, is still far from a done deal.

Among other things, the So­cial Democrats’ lead­ers will still have to sell en­ter­ing coali­tion talks to a party con­fer­ence, and face much re­sis­tance.

The sides then need to hash out the ac­tual coali­tion agree­ment, which would have to be ap­proved in a bal­lot of the So­cial Democrats’ en­tire mem­ber­ship.

Fol­low­ing a dis­mal re­sult in Ger­many’s Septem­ber 24 elec­tion, the So­cial Democrats ini­tially vowed not to en­ter into an­other gov­ern­ment with Merkel’s conservatives, but re­con­sid­ered their po­si­tion af­ter the long-time chan­cel­lor’s at­tempts to form a coali­tion with two smaller par­ties col­lapsed.

Ger­man President Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier ap­pealed to the ne­go­tia­tors on Thurs­day to con­sider their re­spon­si­bil­ity to­ward Europe, not just their own par­ties and po­lit­i­cal fu­tures.

Part of the agree­ment in­volved calls for in­creased Ger­man fi­nanc­ing for the Euro­pean Union so it can strengthen its in­sti­tu­tions.

“We have, in what feels like a long time since the elec­tion, seen that the world will not wait for us,” Mrs Merkel ex­plained.

“We are con­vinced that we need a new awak­en­ing for Europe. So I have no wor­ries about us find­ing com­mon so­lu­tions with France.”

This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in our sis­ter ti­tle USA To­day.

What we have writ­ten in this pre­lim­i­nary agree­ment is not rhetoric, we mean it

Pic­ture: St­effi Loos/Getty

An­gela Merkel an­nounces the suc­cess of the all-night pre­lim­i­nary coali­tion talks in Ber­lin, Ger­many, ahead of fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions.

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