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Merkel’s party looks to Social Democrats for ruling coalition in Germany

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2013

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives plan to open coalition talks Friday with leftist Social Democrats in the first round of political bargaining that could drag into early next year, as the two parties haggle over the direction of the next government in the economic powerhouse of Europe.

In case talks with the Social Democratic Party fail, Mrs. Merkel also plans to meet next week with environmental leftists of the Greens party in her quest for a new governing partner after the Sept. 22 parliamentary elections.

Her Christian Democratic Union won a landslide 41.5 percent of the vote but failed to gain enough seats to form a government on its own. Her partner in the last government, the Free Democratic Party, won no seats and was shut out of parliament for the first time since the free-market party was founded in 1948.

"We could be in for the most difficult coalition negotiations in the history of the republic," the German newspaper Bild said.

Andrea Nahles, the general-secretary of the Social Democratic Party, told reporters Monday that her party will resist pressure for a quick deal on what some are calling a "grand coalition."

"No one can say when we might get to the point where a government can be formed. It could be December or January," she said. "We won't be rushed."

The Social Democrats find themselves in a position of kingmakers, even though they captured only 25.7 percent of the vote, slightly better than the 23 percent they won in the previous election in 2009. They are expected to demand higher taxes on the wealthy and a national minimum wage as their price for joining a coalition with the Christian Democrats.

Many conservatives, however, have pledged not to increase taxes.

"We'll have to gauge how serious the [Social Democrats] are about negotiating, as so far they have made a lot of noise against a grand coalition," Hermann Groehe, general-secretary of the Christian Democrats, said at a news conference Monday.

Many observers view the Christian Democrats' victory in last month's election as a clear indication that the voters appreciate how Mrs. Merkel has handled the fiscal crisis among the 17 nations of the European Union that share the euro currency.

"Paradoxically, even though Merkel won a convincing victory, she may end up a weakened chancellor," a report from the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations says.

Some analysts believe Mrs. Merkel may be willing to create a national minimum wage. She already supports the idea of letting unions and business leaders create their own basic wages.

The Social Democrats are likely to demand key Cabinet positions, such as the finance minister.

The Social Democrats remain uneasy about working with Mrs. Merkel again.

They served as her coalition partner from 2005 to 2009, but the Christian Democrats received all the credit for successful policies. Many Social Democrats blame that coalition for their party's poor results in subsequent elections.

A new opinion poll shows that two-thirds of Social Democrats oppose a coalition with Mrs. Merkel, but the majority of Germans support a coalition.

Social Democratic leaders say they will seek approval from their 470,000 members before agreeing to a coalition.

Mrs. Merkel might find it easier to build a coalition with the Greens, which received 8.4 percent of the vote. Although they are further to the left than the Social Democrats, they are desperate to get a role in a governing coalition, analysts say.

They were part of a coalition with the Social Democrats from 1998 to 2005, when Mrs. Merkel formed her first government.

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