Top German conservative urges SPD to speed up coalition talks

BERLIN • A leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives yesterday urged the Social Democrats (SPD) to finish coalition talks within two to three weeks, warning that Germans were losing trust in democracy after months without a new government.

Mr Volker Kauder, who leads the conservatives in Parliament, rejected calls by the embattled leader of the centre-left SPD Martin Schulz to revisit key issues already agreed in a coalition blueprint.

Mr Schulz met Dr Merkel and the leader of the Bavarian CSU conservatives, Mr Horst Seehofer, on Monday for what party sources called "constructive" talks on the way forward to build a new government.

The political blocs were to meet separately yesterday before formal coalition negotiations, which are expected to begin on Friday. Failure to reach agreement on a coalition could result in a minority government or new elections.

"We should finish the coalition negotiations in two to three weeks," Mr Kauder told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper chain in an interview published yesterday. "The citizens are tired of waiting. Every day that passes without a new government does not exactly increase trust in the parties and democracy."

A weary Mr Schulz, whose leadership was in play on Sunday, told reporters on Monday that he aimed to build a government that "improved the lives of the people in this country, but also meets Germany's international commitments, especially with regard to the (European Union) and the unity of Europe".

Earlier, he had said negotiators "will talk about all the topics we addressed in the exploratory talks again".

But the conservatives reject a wholesale relook at the blueprint, arguing that it would delay and complicate the negotiations.

"We shouldn't even talk about improvements. The blueprint is the basis for a coalition," Mr Kauder told the Funke group.

Only 56 per cent of SPD delegates at a party congress on Sunday voted to launch formal coalition talks on the basis of that blueprint.

The narrow victory margin - and continued opposition by the party's youth wing - puts pressure on Mr Schulz to secure further concessions from the conservatives on immigration and healthcare, something the conservatives have rejected.

The SPD had wanted to go into opposition instead of redoing the tie-up that ruled Germany for the past four years after gaining just 20.5 per cent of the vote in the national elections last September, the worst result for Germany's oldest party since 1933.

A new RTL poll on Monday shows the party's support has dropped a point to 17 per cent, just four points ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany.

The stakes are high because Mr Schulz has promised that the SPD's 443,000 members will be allowed to vote on a final deal. If he fails to deliver for them, the whole coalition project risks collapsing.

Mr Wolfgang Tiefensee, designated leader of the SPD in the eastern state of Thuringia, has urged Mr Schulz to stick to his vow to refrain from seeking a ministerial post in a Cabinet led by Dr Merkel.

Many in the SPD believe Mr Schulz wants to be foreign minister.

"A 180-degree pivot on this issue would shatter the credibility of Martin Schulz," Mr Tiefensee, a former federal transportation minister, told Die Welt newspaper yesterday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Top German conservative urges SPD to speed up coalition talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe