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German parties reach coalition govt deal after long talks

February 7, 2018
Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and Germany's main center-left party reached a deal Wednesday to form a new coalition government after a final session of talks that dragged on for 24 hours.

The two sides still face a major hurdle — getting approval from the center-left Social Democrats' members — before the new administration can take office.

"We have a coalition agreement that means positive things for many, many citizens," Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said as he left the talks. "And now we all want a shower, because we have negotiated long and hard over the last few hours."

The deal between Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democrats won't bring an immediate end to the political limbo following Germany's Sept. 24 election. The country has already broken its post-World War II record for the longest time from an election to the swearing-in of a new government.

The accord will be put to a ballot of the Social Democrats' more than 460,000 members, a process that will take a few weeks. Many members are skeptical after the party's disastrous election result, which followed four years of being a "grand coalition" as a junior partner to Merkel's conservatives.

On the conservative side, Merkel needs only the approval of a party congress of her CDU, a far lower hurdle.

The Social Democrats were set to get the foreign, labor and finance ministries — the latter a major prize, held by Merkel's CDU for the past eight years and an influential position given Germany's status as the eurozone's biggest economy. The interior ministry, also previously held by the CDU, would go to the CSU, which has pushed to curb the number of migrants entering Germany.

Merkel's party would keep the defense ministry and get the economy and energy ministry, held by the Social Democrats in the outgoing government.

"I think this is an excellent result, in terms of content as well as with regards to the ministries, senior Social Democrat lawmaker Hubertus Heil said. "We can be very satisfied."

Alexander Dobrindt, the CSU's top federal lawmaker, said it had been time for negotiators to come out of their "trenches" and "we succeeded."

"It was time to have the prospect of a government in Germany," Dobrindt told reporters. "So it's a good morning."

Merkel has been running a caretaker government since late October.

While that poses no problems for day-to-day business, it means that Germany — the European Union's most populous member with its biggest economy — hasn't been in a position to launch major initiatives or play any significant role in the debate on the EU's future, led so far by French President Emmanuel Macron.

A rejection of the deal by Social Democrat members would leave a minority government under Merkel or a new election as the only viable political options.

Merkel's attempt to put together a government with two smaller parties collapsed in November. Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who had previously ruled out renewing the coalition of Germany's biggest parties, then reversed course.

If the coalition comes together, the biggest opposition party will be the nationalist Alternative for Germany, which entered parliament in September after a campaign that centered on opposition to Merkel and her 2015 decision to allow in large numbers of migrants.

Its co-leader, Alexander Gauland, said the conservatives had "emptied themselves ideologically" for the sake of reaching a coalition deal.

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Coalition agreement (in German): https://tinyurl.com/y7mxftc2

 
 
 

 

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