BERLIN • The leader of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) has said he wanted to renegotiate key issues agreed in a coalition blueprint with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives after his party narrowly agreed on formal coalition talks.
At an SPD congress where divisions over the proposed alliance were laid bare, 56 per cent of delegates voted on Sunday to start formal negotiations on the basis of a blueprint agreed earlier this month.
That margin was tighter than many analysts had expected, with discontent among the party's rank-and-file widespread.
The SPD sought yesterday to appease them by demanding that the conservatives make concessions on immigration and healthcare.
Dr Merkel, the leader of her Bavarian CSU allies, Mr Horst Seehofer, and SPD head Martin Schulz were slated to meet yesterday and the full talks may start as early as today.
The conservatives, comprising Dr Merkel's Christian Democrats and the CSU, have insisted they will not give ground, but Mr Schulz said negotiations would be starting anew.
"We will talk about all the topics we addressed in the exploratory talks again," he said.
SPD general secretary Lars Klingbeil told public broadcaster ARD he thought the conservatives were aware that SPD members needed to be won over.
Will she compromise?
SPD's demands include:
• Abolishing the dual public-private health insurance system in favour of a single "citizen's insurance".
• Scaling back temporary employment contracts.
• Allowing family reunions for asylum seekers suffering unusual hardship.
Will he cave?
Pressure on SPD chief Martin Schulz:
• Fierce resistance from SPD's left and youth wings, who criticised the preliminary coalition agreement with the conservatives as falling short of campaign pledges.
• Angry grassroots SPDers who wanted to go into opposition to revive the party's fighting spirit, after its worst election result in decades.
He said the SPD wanted to add a "hardship provision" to an agreement on immigration that limits to 1,000 a month the number of people who can join accepted refugees in Germany under family reunion rules.
He also hoped for a compromise on the single "citizen's insurance" that the SPD wanted to replace Germany's private and public healthcare systems with, a measure opposed by the conservatives.
If SPD leaders fail to deliver on such key issues, the risk increases that the party might reject a final deal, on which Mr Schulz plans to ballot all 443,000 of its members.
Eyeing a fourth term as chancellor, Dr Merkel wants the SPD to agree to a re-run of the "grand coalition" that has governed Europe's economic powerhouse since 2013.
She said she looked forward to intensive talks on forming a stable government and her priorities were preserving Germany's economic strength and ensuring social justice and security.
The 28-page coalition blueprint agreed on earlier this month - laying the basis for future government policies - promises more spending on childcare, education and pensions as well as joining France in a push to overhaul the European Union. But the SPD failed to secure a tax hike for the rich or a restructuring of the country's two-tier healthcare system.
Dr Merkel has made clear that the blueprint will form the basis of negotiations but that many questions have yet to be clarified in detail.
Both parties suffered heavy losses to the far-right in national elections in September and Dr Merkel was weakened further by the collapse in November of three-way coalition talks with other parties, raising questions about her future.
In the blueprint, there is a clause that envisages a review of the next government's progress after two years to assess if changes are needed, sparking speculation that it might also be engineering an opportunity for Dr Merkel to step down.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE