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Merkel ready for 'painful compromises' with coalition deal in sight

Senior negotiators from both blocs met in small groups throughout the day after agreeing late on Monday they needed more time over the coalition.

German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union party, Angela Merkel, closes her eyes while speaking after exploratory talks on forming a new government broke down on 19 November 2017 in Berlin. Picture: AFP.

BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was ready to make “painful compromises” to clinch a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), whose leader said Tuesday was “decision day” for negotiators after months of political uncertainty.

Senior negotiators from both blocs met in small groups throughout the day after agreeing late on Monday they needed more time to reach a deal on renewing their “grand coalition”.

“Each of us will have to make painful compromises and I am ready for that,” Merkel told reporters.

“When we see the movements on the stock markets over the last hours, we live in turbulent times and what is expected of us as popular parties ... is that we form a government for the good of the people, one that brings stability,” she said.

Merkel’s failure to cobble together a government more than four months after a national election has raised concerns among investors and partner countries at a time when Europe is facing multiple challenges - including the need for euro zone reform and Britain’s departure from the EU.

Germany could face a new election or an unprecedented minority government if SPD members reject a coalition deal. But negotiators from both blocs said they must reach agreement on Tuesday.

Andreas Scheuer, secretary-general of Merkel’s Bavarian allies, said there was no possibility of extending the talks. “So we have to come to an agreement tonight. Anything else would be unreasonable for our citizens.”

Conservative lawmakers were invited to a meeting at 1 pm (1200 GMT) on Wednesday to be briefed on “the conclusion of the coalition negotiations,” according to an event invitation seen by Reuters.

Sources involved in the talks said proposals discussed earlier to let companies writedown digital investments would not appear in a coalition agreement, along with proposals to progressively abolish Germany’s air transport tax.
The two blocs took an unusual swipe at Israel over its settlement building.

“Israel’s current settlement policy contradicts existing international law and does not find our support, because it makes a two-state solution more difficult,” read the draft, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

They added: “Israel’s right to exist is irrefutable for us and a pillar of German politics.”

German governments have made strong relations with Israel a priority since World War Two when six million Jews were killed by the Nazis. But relations have grown tense in recent years as Germany questioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

CONCESSIONS

Germany has had a caretaker government since the 24 September election returned no clear outcome.

After initially vowing to rebuild in opposition, the SPD is now trying to extract concessions on healthcare and employment policy that could win over sceptics among its 443,000 members, who get the final say on whether to go ahead with the coalition.

The Rheinische Post newspaper said the Constitutional Court was examining five complaints about the legitimacy of the SPD members’ ballot. A spokesman for the court said two of the five complaints had been rejected.

In 2013, the court rejected an injunction seeking to stop a similar ballot on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to give SPD members more say than other voters.

SPD politician Ulrich Kelber believed all the complaints would fail this time too: “Forecast: fiddlesticks!” he tweeted.
The SPD campaigned last year for “a better and fairer Europe”. Its leader Martin Schulz on Monday lauded an agreement his party and the conservatives reached that he said included “an investment budget for the euro zone and an end of forced austerity!”

But Schulz made no specific mention of any plans to advocate for more powers and responsibilities for the European Stability Mechanism euro zone bailout fund, as was envisaged in a coalition blueprint agreed on 12 January.

Some conservatives fear that rushing ahead with European integration would be too costly to German taxpayers - concerns fuelled by former European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing, who described the January coalition blueprint as “a farewell to the idea of an EU aimed at stability”.

Both Merkel’s conservative bloc and the SPD are under pressure not to concede too much in the negotiations or see their support ebb further.

An Insa poll on Monday showed support for the SPD dropping to 17%, below its election result of 20.5%. The conservatives slipped to 30.5%, suggesting there would be no majority for a grand coalition if an election were held now.

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