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One of Germany’s leading conservatives has backed the prospect of a fresh “grand coalition” to break the post-election deadlock ahead of negotiations in which Angela Merkel will seek to extend her 12-year rule.
Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that a grand coalition of the centre-left and centre-right was “the best option for Germany”.
With the uncertainty in Berlin hanging over Europe as it grapples with Brexit and attempts to reform the eurozone, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) last week abandoned their refusal to consider recreating the grand coalition that governed Germany for the past four years.
Mr Seehofer said the SPD, which suffered its worst result since the mid-20th century in September’s election, should “remain realistic” in its demands. Senior SPD figures are calling for stronger measures protecting part-time workers and the abolition of private health insurance.
However, another of the SPD’s central positions looks likely to be an obstacle for any deal — its opposition to a cap on refugee numbers. In October, Mr Seehofer secured a commitment to a cap of 200,000 refugees a year in post-election talks with Ms Merkel’s that resolved a rift within the conservative bloc over asylum policy.
Ms Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s doors to refugees fleeing Syria and elsewhere was one of the most divisive subjects in the election, which saw the far-right Alternative for Germany win 13 per cent of the vote. Bavaria, the southern state through which most of the refugees came who reached Germany from Syria, is Mr Seehofer’s base.
On Thursday Mr Seehofer will meet Ms Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz to begin talks convened by Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is leading efforts to solve the country’s political crisis. Before Thursday, Mr Steinmeier will meet separately with senior officials of the six parties that will sit in the German parliament.
The grand coalition negotiations follow unsuccessful talks on an alliance between the conservative bloc, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Green party. These collapsed when Christian Lindner, head of the FDP, walked out. That marked the first time postwar Germany had experienced the breakdown of coalition talks after an election.
SPD leaders held an eight-hour meeting at party headquarters in Berlin on Thursday before saying that they were willing to enter negotiations. The party had until then said it would remain in opposition after voters punished it for doing too little to offer an alternative to the centre right that has dominated the German political landscape in recent years.
The CDU and the CSU also did worse than expected in the elections, losing votes to Alternative for Germany.
The Junge Union, the youth wing of the CDU and CSU, gave the parties until Christmas to agree a solution. If the talks were not agreed by then, they would be “deemed to have failed”, the wing’s chief Paul Ziemiak told Bild am Sonntag. If the SPD was not ready to enter a grand coalition, then the conservative bloc should form a minority government, he added. Polls show that the German public would prefer a grand coalition to a minority government.