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Merkel Seeks Breakthrough in Marathon Talks on Government

Updated on
  • Crunch time redux in German chancellor’s bid for fourth term
  • Germans weary of post-election impasse after almost 16 weeks
Angela Merkel briefs the media in Berlin on Jan. 11. Photographer: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s Social Democrats negotiated through the night and into the morning to try to sketch out a government alliance, seeking to end political gridlock and open the door to her fourth term.

Leaders of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, her Bavarian sister party and the Social Democrats remained holed up at the SPD’s headquarters in Berlin early Friday after 24 hours of talks. German media reported that a breakthrough in talks had been reached, but negotiating groups still need to agree on a definitive deal. The parties had set themselves a Thursday deadline, though Merkel said at the outset that the talks would be arduous.

Almost 16 weeks after her party won an inconclusive federal election, Merkel’s second attempt to restore leadership in Europe’s dominant country and safeguard her political career are on the line as she seeks to win over the SPD to govern with her for another four years.

“It’ll take a while yet,” Helge Braun, a senior official in Merkel’s chancellery, told reporters at about 5 a.m. in Berlin.

Even if the week-long exploratory talks produce a deal to move forward, Merkel will quickly face another next hurdle: The SPD plans to ask a party convention on Jan. 21 to decide whether to go ahead with formal coalition talks.

Read more: Five policies that will make or break Merkel’s next coalition

The Social Democrats at first refused to extend their alliance with Merkel after the last four years of serving as her junior partner ended with the party’s worst electoral defeat since World War II.

The German parties’ glacial pace in setting up a new administration is testing the patience of voters who gave Merkel’s bloc the most votes in the Sept. 24 national election. Merkel, 63, has been acting chancellor since, putting most policy making in Europe’s biggest economy on hold. Her bloc fell to 32.9 percent in the election, its worst result since 1949.

While the German economy goes from strength to strength, Merkel and the Social Democrats are seeking to hold a political center that’s been eroded by the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

Far-Right Backlash

The chancellor is under pressure to succeed after her attempt to patch together a coalition with the Green party and the pro-market Free Democrats failed in November. Any coalition pact will have to cover the gamut from left-wing SPD members to the socially conservative CSU in Bavaria.

Looming over the talks is the AfD, the first far-right faction to enter the federal parliament since the 1950s. The party, which is sticking to an opposition role, took 12.6 percent of the vote after vilifying Merkel for keeping Germany’s border open to refugees.

— With assistance by Iain Rogers

(Adds report of breakthrough in talks in second paragraph.)
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