Cornered Merkel upbeat as she seeks to revive grand coalition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for exploratory talks held at the Social Democrats (SPD) party headquarters. [Photo: Courtesy]
Chancellor Angela Merkel is optimistic her conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) can cut a deal. This she said on Sunday as the parties began five days of talks about reviving the ‘grand coalition’ that has governed Germany since 2013.

Persuading the center-left SPD to team up with her is Merkel’s best bet for forming a stable government and extending her 12 years in office after she failed in November to form an alliance with two smaller parties.

Arriving at SPD headquarters for talks more than three months after a national election, Merkel said the parties had much work to get through but intended to tackle it quickly, adding: “I think it can succeed.”

The SPD, which had said it would go into opposition after its worst election showing since 1933, reconsidered when Germany’s president intervened.

But the center-left party, among whose membership opposition to a grand coalition re-run remains strong, has been playing hard to get.

A group called “NoGroKo”, meaning “no grand coalition”, has formed within its ranks to campaign against working with Merkel again, saying that would cost the SPD votes and make the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) the main opposition party.

SPD leader Martin Schulz said that his party was entering the talks constructively.

“We won’t draw any red lines, rather we want to push through as much red politics as possible,” Schulz said, referring to the party’s color.

He said that five days should suffice to find out whether the parties had enough common ground to launch full-blown coalition talks. The SPD leadership is due to recommend on Friday whether or not to start those talks, and it will then be up to an SPD party congress on Jan 21 to make a decision.

After Sunday’s talks, in comments agreed with the other parties, SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil said that some of the 15 working groups on specific policy areas had made significant progress while others had not, but gave no further detail.

He described the discussions as “serious, constructive and open” and said the participants were all aware of the responsibility they bore for the future of Germany and Europe.

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