German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party has voted in favour of a deal to form a new coalition government with the centre-left Social Democrats.
Delegates at a Christian Democratic Union convention in Berlin voted overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement despite criticism from some conservatives in the party.
Disquiet among members has been growing following a weak election result last September that forced Mrs Merkel into complicated coalition negotiations with smaller parties.
The agreement still requires approval from the Social Democrats. The result of a postal ballot of that party’s membership will be announced March 4.
Of some 1,000 delegates at the convention, only 27 voted against the agreement which had drawn criticism from some conservatives in the party.
The convention also saw delegates approve Merkel ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a longtime governor in the tiny western state of Saarland, to take over the party’s day-to-day management as general secretary.
Disquiet among the CDU’s members has been growing in recent years, raising questions about Mrs Merkel’s future. Though getting the most votes, the party posted one of its worst ever results in last September’s election as many conservative voters, anguished over the arrival of more than a million refugees, defected to the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD).
“We were all disappointed,” Mrs Merkel said of September’s election result, which forced her into months of coalition haggling with other parties.
Critics within her CDU have taken particular umbrage at the fact that key ministries — including interior and finance — will go to its Bavaria-only sister party and the Social Democrats.
Mrs Merkel acknowledged the unease among party supporters, but said it would have been wrong to let coalition talks collapse over the distribution of ministerial posts, insisting that as the strongest force in German politics her party had to live up to its responsibility to form a government.
Part of Mrs Merkel’s response to disaffected members has been to replace several of the party’s long-time ministers with a younger team including more women and one of her most prominent critics, 37-year-old Jens Spahn.
Others lamented the lack of ministers from eastern Germany, where the party has suffered particularly big losses to AfD in recent years.
Mrs Merkel, who has governed Germany since 2005, refrained from taking personal responsibility for losing votes to AfD. But she pledged to regain voters’ trust by addressing their fears about migration, globalisation and the pace of technological change.
In a signal to conservatives, she said there would be zero tolerance for extremists of any kind and migrants who refuse to integrate into German society will feel “tangible consequences”.
She added that anti-Semitism has no place in Germany, “whether it’s from Muslim immigrants, the AfD or left extremists”.