Merkel sees `tough day` in crunch German coalition talks
Reuters, Berlin :
Leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Martin Schulz shakes hands before exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government at the SPD headquarters in
Chancellor Angela Merkel said her conservatives still had high hurdles to clear in Thursday's talks on forming a coalition with Social Democrats (SPD) pressing for accelerated European integration.
Merkel, weakened by an election setback in September, turned to the left-leaning SPD to seek a re-run of their so-called "grand coalition" after the collapse in November of talks on a three-way coalition untested at national level. The chancellor, who has won widespread respect abroad in more than 12 years in power, needs the coalition talks to succeed to avoid her personal authority being further undermined and Germany's international standing diminished.
Speaking at the start of the final day of exploratory talks that could lead to formal negotiations, Merkel said it would be a tough day but she recognized that Germans expected results. "Of course we also have in mind that we have to create a good policy platform for our country. So it's going to be a tough day," she said. SPD leader Martin Schulz, a former president of the European Parliament, made clear his priority was Europe.
"On the last day of exploratory talks we will make clear that above all this must be a new start for the European Union," he told reporters. "If we join a government it will be on the condition that it makes Europe strong."
Schulz has called for a United States of Europe by 2025 - an idea rejected by senior conservatives, many of whom are wary of such ambitious reform plans that they worry could see Germany funnel more of its taxpayers' money to other EU states.
However, Merkel helped lead Europe through its twin euro zone and refugee crises and is adept at finding compromises, especially on European issues.
Should the parties fail to reach a deal on Thursday they could extend the talks, though President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is eager for an agreement, keenly aware that businesses want a stable coalition to end the uncertainty and avoid another vote.
Participants have described the negotiations as "good", but SPD leaders need to convince their party members and are offering them a vote on Jan. 21 on whether to proceed.