- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

BERLIN — German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is expected to cede power to conservative challenger Angela Merkel at a meeting today, ending a political stalemate created by the indecisive Sept. 18 election.

Mr. Schroeder reiterated after a third round of talks between his Social Democrats and Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats yesterday that he would not stand in the way of a grand coalition between the parties, and refrained at a news conference from reasserting his claim to remain in power.

Asked to comment on a remark he made on Monday that he would not stand in the way of a new government being formed, Mr. Schroeder said with a grin: “That was wise wasn’t it? That still applies. I didn’t just say that for no reason.”

Mrs. Merkel, who is claiming Mr. Schroeder’s job because her conservatives narrowly beat the SPD by 450,000 votes and four parliamentary seats, said the two sides had found enough common ground on policy yesterday to move ahead with formal coalition talks, once the issue of who would head the new government was resolved.

She told reporters the two sides would hold one last meeting to decide that issue.

“I got the signal from the SPD that they’re ready to conduct this meeting. Overall, I got the impression that there is strong desire among the Social Democrats that coalition negotiations go ahead, but first we have to wait for this meeting, then we can decide. Overall, I would say I’m more optimistic than pessimistic,” said Mrs. Merkel, looking relaxed and cheerful.

That comment, combined with Mr. Schroeder’s gradual backing down in the last two weeks from his insistence on remaining the German leader, fueled speculation that today will be decisive.

“Schroeder’s been resigning in careful steps for over a week now. The question is what his party can get in return for his departure,” said Dietmar Herz, political scientist at Erfurt University. “Many in the SPD have accepted Merkel, but they want to extract as high a price as possible for Schroeder’s departure.”

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