German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Social Democrats are entering their first week of negotiating the substance of a new government with the fight for control of the finance ministry looming in the background.
With more than a dozen working groups haggling over the details, the main 75 negotiators from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, her CSU Bavarian sister party and the SPD will meet again on Oct. 30 in Berlin to discuss European policy.
Coalition negotiations, overshadowed by reports that the U.S. government may have tapped Merkel’s mobile phone, moved forward five weeks after the chancellor’s election victory. The SPD, confronting the prospect of putting any agreement to a vote of its 470,000 members, is seeking a way to put a Social Democratic stamp on a third-term Merkel government.
SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel may surrender the party’s claim to the finance ministry as a way of extracting additional concessions from Merkel’s bloc and winning more cabinet posts, Der Spiegel magazine reported. The move would also give Gabriel, as a prospective vice chancellor who doesn’t intend to seek the finance post for himself, more leverage with Merkel, it said.
The SPD wants to strip euro-area policy from the Finance Ministry, currently controlled by CDU veteran Wolfgang Schaeuble, three people familiar with the party’s negotiating strategy told Bloomberg News last week.
The SPD approach confining the ministry’s focus to the budget would weaken Schaeuble’s position while increasing SPD leverage in the most important area of government policy outside the chancellery, the people said.
“I can guarantee that until now nobody has said a single word about ministries or ministry posts,” SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles told Bild newspaper today. “For the SPD, substance is in the foreground.”
Negotiators for the working groups on European policy and for finance will meet in the German capital today.
Der Spiegel also reported that Merkel’s plans to forge an agenda with the SPD extend to the European Union, as she seeks to coordinate with European Parliament President Martin Schulz. Schulz is a German SPD member with close ties to Gabriel.
The SPD is prepared to scrap its support for jointly issued euro-area bonds in favor of a commitment to crack down on tax evasion, an EU investment program in education and infrastructure and a European growth fund, Spiegel said.
The large group of coalition negotiators met for the first time for two hours on Oct. 23, over a month after Merkel won the biggest victory since German reunification on Sept. 22. The parties plan to talk through November and have envisaged swearing in a “grand coalition” government by Christmas.
Schaeuble is leading the negotiations on the finance working group for Merkel’s bloc, with the sub-group on Europe under Herbert Reul, who heads her CDU/CSU faction in the European Parliament. Across the table from Schaeuble on the main finance group is Olaf Scholz, the mayor of Hamburg and a labor minister in Merkel’s first-term 2005-2009 grand coalition with the SPD.
The parties may also be nearing an agreement on another point of conflict, the tolerance of dual citizenship, which Merkel’s bloc has opposed and the SPD has made one of its conditions. CSU Chairman and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer told Spiegel he could envision ending the requirement for mostly Turkish dual nationals to choose a single citizenship by the time they’re 23.
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