Europe at stake in German coalition talks: president tells negotiators

From Reuters - January 11, 2018

BERLIN (Reuters) - German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday reminded would-be coalition partners about the high stakes involved - and their responsibility for Europe - as negotiators worked through a tough final evening of talks about forming a new government.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her conservatives still had high hurdles to clear in Thursdays talks on whether to launch formal negotiations about a new coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), who are pressing for accelerated integration of European Union states.

Merkel, weakened by an election setback in September, turned to the left-leaning SPD to renew the so-called grand coalition that ruled for two of her three previous terms, after her talks with two smaller parties collapsed in November.

Steinmeier, who is pressing both sides to reach a deal, told foreign diplomats in Berlin the delay in forming a government was unprecedented, but the German constitution provided clear rules for the situation, and everyone was taking it seriously.

Those who bear responsibility in the institutions and parties ... know that they have this responsibility not only towards the members of their own party and their own political future. Rather, it is always also a responsibility for Europe, and for reliability, partnership and engagement in international politics, he said.

Merkel, widely respected abroad after more than 12 years in power, needs coalition talks to succeed to avoid further erosion of her personal authority and Germanys international influence, not least in the EU.

The chancellor had kicked off Thursdays talks by acknowledging it would be a tough day of talks on divisive issues, but said she recognized that Germans expected results. The two political blocs want to decide by Friday whether to launch formal coalition talks.

Reiner Haseloff, premier of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, told reporters late on Thursday that he remained optimistic and he did not expect the talks to fail.

But another participant in the talks said the two blocs were still struggling to find common ground on the most divisive issues - taxes, pensions, migration and healthcare.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier, both conservatives, and SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner, relaxed by playing cards during a break in lower-level talks as the top tier of party leaders huddled together.

Germanys political uncertainty is at odds with its flourishing economy, whose growth hit a six-year high in 2017, helping deliver a record 38.4-billion-euro ($46.2 billion) public sector surplus.

Some argue Merkel should use the windfall to unveil a vision for Germanys future.


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