Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s Social Democrats prepared to negotiate through the end of the year after the SPD laid down its demands for concessions before entering a government as junior partner.
The SPD approved starting coalition talks yesterday after the party identified “essential” conditions to Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc, including a nationwide minimum wage. Leaders from both factions said the parties will probably negotiate through November with the goal of swearing in a “grand coalition” of the two largest parties by Christmas.
“Now comes the hard part,” Volker Bouffier, the CDU premier of the western state of Hesse, told reporters today as he entered a party board meeting in Berlin. “We’re ready to compromise, but we expect the same from the SPD.”
SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel vowed to give a third-term Merkel government a Social Democratic imprint and lock in a coalition agreement that must be approved by the party’s 470,000 members. At the negotiating table, he’ll face a popular chancellor who won almost 42 percent of the vote on Sept. 22 and came five seats short of an absolute majority.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her CSU Bavarian sister party will start coalition talks with the SPD on Oct. 23, the day after Germany’s lower house of parliament, or Bundestag, holds its first post-election session.
About 85 percent of 229 SPD delegates yesterday ratified the decision for talks. To win over the rank and file, delegates demanded a minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.63) an hour, as well as shoring up pensions and investing in roads and schools.
“It’s possible that unbridgeable differences arise during the talks so that a coalition isn’t possible,” Gabriel said after yesterday’s delegation meeting at the party’s Berlin headquarters. “But if you decide to take up coalition talks, then your goal is to bring them to a successful end.”
Strengthened by the biggest election victory since German reunification, Merkel’s faction has ruled out higher taxes -- one of the central SPD campaign themes. That wasn’t among the SPD’s demands yesterday, leaving Gabriel’s negotiators to insist on other policy changes from the SPD platform.
“We will negotiate with a strong hand on substance,” SPD delegates said in a statement. “Compromises will be necessary, however the SPD delegation views the following elements as essential.”
The minimum wage tops the list of 10 conditions. The others include improving nursing care; a quota for women on company executive boards; tolerance of dual citizenship; increased financing for communities, infrastructure and education; a financial-transaction tax; and an economic growth strategy for Europe.
“I’m confident these priorities will make it possible to achieve fair and good compromises,” CDU General Secretary Hermann Groehe told reporters today. Any minimum wage must “under no circumstance destroy jobs,” he said.
If an agreement is reached, the SPD will poll its membership by mail, a process that should take about two weeks, SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles said. The vote will only be valid if at least 20 percent of the party’s members send their ballot by post. If not, the SPD will hold a party conference.
“It’s going to get interesting over the next few weeks,” Nahles said. “At the end of the day we want a good result that we can hand over to the membership for a vote.”
Merkel governed with the SPD in her first term from 2005 to 2009, after which the SPD had its worst election result in half a century. Many in the party blamed the result on Merkel’s knack for taking credit for the government’s accomplishments.
Merkel’s CDU and the CSU will send a combined 311 members to the 631-seat Bundestag, with the SPD taking 193 seats. In 2005, when Merkel saw off SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by a single percentage point and was forced into a grand coalition with his party, she took 226 seats to the SPD’s 222 seats.
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