Merkel allies try to appease fuming SPD ahead of coalition talks

BERLIN • Senior members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives urged the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) yesterday to refrain from drawing red lines on policy issues that could complicate exploratory talks to form a stable government.

Dr Merkel is struggling to find a coalition partner after her centre-right bloc bled support to the far right in a Sept 24 election and her attempts to form a three-way tie-up with the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens failed.

The SPD, which governed in coalition under Dr Merkel since 2013 and suffered its worst election result in post-war history, had previously been strongly opposed to another "grand coalition".

But under pressure from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, SPD leader Martin Schulz has changed tack and signalled his willingness to discuss a way out of the political impasse in Europe's biggest economy.

Mr Steinmeier was yesterday due to host a joint meeting between Dr Merkel, her Bavarian conservative ally Horst Seehofer and Mr Schulz as part of his efforts to facilitate the formation of a stable government. The atmosphere ahead of the talks has been soured, however, by a dispute between Cabinet colleagues over a European Union licence for a weedkiller. Conservative Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt angered the SPD on Monday by breaking protocol to back an EU proposal to extend the use of glyphosate in the bloc for another five years, a measure opposed by the SPD.

"I recommend to all of us that we should not complicate the efforts to find a stable form of cooperation by publicly drawing red lines," Health Minister Hermann Groehe, a senior member of Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), told Rheinische Post daily.

Another senior CDU member, Ms Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said both parties should overcome their differences and focus their efforts on forming a coalition.

"The voters expect that this (weedkiller) row is put to an end," Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer told Deutschlandfunk radio. If talks with the SPD should fail, the last resort would be the formation of a Merkel-led minority government, she added.

Mr Schulz has said the SPD members will get to vote on any decision by the leadership to reconstitute a coalition under Dr Merkel. SPD members will discuss the options at a Dec 7-9 party congress.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2017, with the headline 'Merkel allies try to appease fuming SPD ahead of coalition talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe