Merkel presses cautious SPD over joining new German coalition

BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel piled pressure on Monday on the Social Democrats (SPD) to rejoin a “grand coalition” with her conservatives, arguing that the European Union and the wider world urgently needed a stable German government in place.
More than two months after its September 24 national election, Europe’s economic and political powerhouse is still without a government and officials say serious coalition talks may now begin only in the new year.
“There are European elections in 2019… so there is a big expectation that we take positions,” she told reporters, referring to proposals by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and by French President Emmanuel Macron on the future governance of the EU’s currency and economic union.
Merkel also cited conflicts in the Middle East, tensions with Russia and relations with the United States as factors that required a Germany “capable of acting”.
Her initial efforts to forge a three-way coalition with the liberals and the Greens collapsed on Nov. 19, forcing her to approach the SPD, which had wanted to go into opposition after suffering its worst election result in German postwar history.
SPD leader Martin Schulz, who has previously been strongly opposed to another “grand coalition”, said on Monday he ruled nothing out ahead of preliminary talks due to start on Thursday.
Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, also said Germany’s obligations to the European Union would be at the heart of the coalition talks.
Stung by their previous experience of serving as junior partner in Merkel-led governments — in 2005-09 and again in 2013-17 — the SPD rank-and-file membership shares Schulz’s reticence about joining a new coalition.
Many SPD members favour a looser arrangement whereby the SPD agrees to tolerate a Merkel-led minority government, supporting or at least agreeing not to vote against certain measures. — Reuters