German SPD Presses Merkel for Trade-Off to Seal New Alliance

Updated on
  • Social Democrats’ Schulz says he has to persuade party members
  • Clock ticking on week of last-ditch talks for new government

Merkel, left, and Schulz participate in a press conference on Jan. 12 2018. 

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany’s Social Democratic leader said he needs concessions from Chancellor Angela Merkel to sell party members on staying in her government, raising the stakes as negotiators seek to finish a coalition pact within a week.

Party leaders aren’t just discussing SPD policy demands on labor, health care and migration as they seek to end the political deadlock in Europe’s biggest economy. They’re also eyeing the party’s base, which would have the final vote on a coalition accord.

“These are things on which we need to come together,” SPD head Martin Schulz told ARD television. “I have to convince the SPD’s 440,000 members.”

More than four months after Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc won an inconclusive federal election, possible outcomes for the chancellor include a tie-up with a familiar junior partner to start her fourth term, governing alone without a parliamentary majority, or seeking a repeat election.

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After nine hours of talks that spilled into early Monday morning, negotiators suggested a deal on migration was close. Both sides say they want to finish talks by Sunday on a rerun of their four-year-old “grand coalition” government.

“There’s a firm determination to find solutions,” Michael Grosse-Broemer, parliamentary whip of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told reporters. “Intense work is under way.”

An SPD convention last week narrowly backed formal negotiations with Merkel after Schulz pledged to push through additional Social Democratic demands. Many in Merkel’s bloc, including the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, say there’s little room for concessions.

“Our scope is very narrow,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the CDU state premier of Saarland and a Merkel ally, told Bild am Sonntag newspaper before Sunday’s closed-door talks. “I can’t imagine that the SPD wants to start from square one.” 

Member Ballot

Both sides are trying to hold Germany’s political center after falling to historic post-World War II lows in the election in September. While a 28-page  preliminary policy pact agreed on Jan. 12 cleared the way for this week’s talks, the SPD will put any final deal to a ballot by its members, a procedure expected to take two to three weeks.

Facing a potential backlash from SPD members who reject a new partnership with Merkel, senior officials at the Jan. 21 convention said they wanted more: tighter restrictions on temporary job contracts, an alignment of doctors’ pay for privately and publicly insured patients, and expanded rights for asylum seekers to bring family members to Germany.

Merkel sought to leave room for bargaining, saying Friday that the preliminary agreement is an “outline.” Talks are scheduled to resume on Tuesday.

“We’re ready for a compromise, but we also expect movement” by Merkel’s bloc, Schulz told ARD.

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