Merkel Leaves Door Open to Grand Coalition After 2013 Election

Chancellor Angela Merkel, saddled with an unpopular coalition partner prone to contradicting her euro policy, left the door open to a rerun of her first-term alliance with Germany’s Social Democrats after 2013 elections.

Merkel, asked at a press conference in Berlin today about her approach to the federal elections due in the fall of next year, said that she couldn’t exclude a so-called grand coalition with the main opposition SPD, even if she’d prefer a continuation of her current government with the Free Democrats.

“As to the question of whether you can rule out a grand coalition -- I say that you can’t rule it out,” Merkel said during the 90-minute question-and-answer session. “But in any event I won’t work to make it happen.”

Merkel’s comments underscore the political jostling one year out from federal elections that will determine whether Germany’s first woman chancellor and its first from the former Communist east secures a third term. Merkel has begun to hone her campaign themes of the euro-area crisis and Germany’s unprecedented energy overhaul, while Wolfgang Schaeuble last week signaled his willingness to stay on as finance minister.

While polls show Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc to be more popular than at any other time of her second term, the FDP could yet sink her ambitions. With support at or below the 5 percent threshold needed to win parliamentary seats, the FDP’s weakness -- if replicated next year -- would leave her unable to form a parliamentary majority with the party at a time when voters say they’d prefer a grand coalition.

Coalition Warning

Merkel’s refusal to rule out the SPD, while saying this isn’t the alliance she wants, may be a warning to coalition lawmakers as they question her policy on the euro-area debt crisis in a bid to refloat their popularity. The comments may also be directed at members of her own party, after two CDU state leaders were quoted in today’s Bild newspaper speaking in favor of grand coalition governments in times of crisis.

The chancellor warned CDU leaders against a debate on the merits of a grand coalition, Der Spiegel magazine reported yesterday. She aimed to push back on statements by Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a CDU member who expressed common purpose with the SPD on pension reform, Spiegel said.

Merkel came to power in November 2005 at the head of a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, with whom she governed for four years before winning a majority with her preferred FDP partner in September 2009.

The policy proposals that unite Merkel’s CDU and the pro-business Free Democratic Party are “the biggest in the political spectrum,” she said today. “That’s why I’ve striven for such a coalition and that’s why I’ll do it again.”

SPD Debate

The SPD meanwhile moved to quell a debate on its leadership contest, rebuffing reports that party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel had bowed out of the race for the candidacy with Peer Steinbrueck and Frank-Walter Steinmeier -- all three of whom were in Merkel’s first-term, grand coalition Cabinet.

Asked whether she “feared” an SPD chancellery candidacy of Steinbrueck, her former finance minister who was instrumental in saving banks, Merkel said that “fear is never good political counsel.”

Asked about the differences between a grand coalition and her alliance with the FDP, Merkel said “I can tell you very simply: In a grand coalition, there’s always another partner that wants to have the chancellorship.”

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