Germany’s Social Democrats back coalition talks with Merkel in narrow vote

Talks can now begin on ending months of political deadlock after members of the centre-left SPD voted to open formal talks on a “grand coalition” with the Chancellor Angela Merkel-led conservative CDU/CSU bloc.

“Today, it’s not just about whether we’re entering coalition negotiations. No. Rather today we finally decide which direction our country and Europe are going. And that’s why I say that today as well, our European neighbours and friends in the world are looking to us here in Bonn,” SPD leader Martin Schulz said after a narrow victory at his party’s special congress in Bonn on Sunday. Only 56 percent of the delegates in the former German capital opted for formal coalition talks with the conservatives. 

The party conference voted on the preliminary coalition blueprint its leaders had struck a week earlier with Chancellor Merkel’s centre-right bloc. Many Social Democrats had criticised the blueprint for containing little of their policy hallmarks.

Schulz promised he would push to get rid of the proposed cap on refugees, establish a “citizens’ insurance” scheme that would guarantee basic health care standards for both state and private patients, and secure greater employee rights.

“The blueprint of exploratory talks form the basis for formal coalition negotiations, and there are of course multiple issues which still need to be clarified in detail and that will surely require intensive deliberation,” Chancellor Merkel said after the SPD vote.

READ ALSO Main points of coalition blueprint agreed by CDU/CSU and SPD

With her eye on a fourth term as chancellor, Merkel wants the SPD to agree to a renewal of the grand coalition that has ruled Europe’s economic powerhouse since 2013.

Difficult negotiations will now begin, but the grassroots SPD membership could reject the deal that their leaders broker once they get to examine the coalition contract and programme.

If talks between the parties collapse another election is the likely outcome.

Both SPD and CDU/CSU suffered heavy losses to the far-right at the September 2017 federal elections and Merkel has been weakened further by the collapse in November of three-way coalition talks with the Greens and FDP, raising questions about her political future.

Sola Jolaoso

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