Tuesday 23 October 2018

German parties reach coalition deal after marathon talks

Angela Merkel (Sina Schuldt/dpa via AP)
Angela Merkel (Sina Schuldt/dpa via AP)

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and Germany's main centre-left party have reached an agreement to form a new coalition government after a final negotiating session that dragged on for 24 hours.

However, the deal between Mrs Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the centre-left Social Democrats will not bring an immediate end to the political limbo following the September 24 election.

A deal will be put to a ballot of the Social Democrats' more than 460,000 members, a process that will take a few weeks. Many members are sceptical after the party's disastrous election result, which followed four years of a "grand coalition" with the party serving as junior partner to Mrs Merkel's conservatives.

On the conservative side, Mrs Merkel needs only the approval of a party congress of her CDU - a far lower hurdle.

The country has already broken its post-Second World War record for the longest time between an election and the swearing-in of a new government.

The chancellor's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said: "We have a coalition agreement that means positive things for many, many citizens.

"And now we all want to have a shower, because we have negotiated long and hard over the last few hours."

Another senior conservative expressed relief that a deal had finally been done. Alexander Dobrindt, the CSU's top federal legislator, said it had been time for negotiators to come out of their "trenches".

Mr Dobrindt told reporters: "I think it was time to have the prospect of a government in Germany. So it's a good morning."

According to news agency dpa, the Social Democrats are set to get the foreign, labour and finance ministries - the latter a major prize, held by Mrs Merkel's CDU for the past eight years. The interior ministry, also previously held by the CDU, would go to the CSU.

Senior Social Democrat Hubertus Heil said: "I think this is an excellent result, in terms of content as well as with regards to the ministries. We can be very satisfied."

A rejection of the deal by Social Democrat members would leave a minority government under Mrs Merkel or a new election as the only viable options.

The chancellor's attempt to put together a government with two smaller parties collapsed in November. Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who had previously ruled out renewing the coalition of Germany's biggest parties, then reversed course.

Mrs Merkel has been running a caretaker government since late October.

While that poses no problems for day-to-day business, it means that Germany - the European Union's most populous member and its biggest economy - has not been in a position to launch major initiatives or play any significant role in the debate on the EU's future, led so far by French president Emmanuel Macron.

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