Another Merkel 'grand coalition' looking more likely
Merkel's conservatives hope to dump their current partners in government, the Social Democrats, and link up with the business-friendly Free Democrats but their lead in the polls has narrowed in recent weeks.Berlin -- Signs grew Wednesday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will head the same awkward coalition after this month's election, with polls, commentators and even her finance minister hinting it is likely.
Merkel's conservatives hope to dump their current partners in government, the Social Democrats (SPD), and link up with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) but their lead in the polls has narrowed in recent weeks.
And after a strikingly harmonious TV debate Sunday between Merkel and her Social Democratic opponent, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, SPD leaders have begun talking openly about staying with the conservatives.
Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck admitted the SPD's prospects for taking the chancellery were bleak due to its double-digit deficit in the polls behind Merkel's Christian Democrats before the September 27 vote.
He told supporters that the Social Democrats' main goal was to prevent Merkel from forming a centre-right alliance with the FDP.
And he added the FDP was unlikely to agree to help the Social Democrats to power with the Green party -- the coalition Steinmeier would like to form.
"So for the SPD it’s a case of preventing Black/Yellow (Merkel's favoured Christian Democrat-Free Democrat coalition) -- that is, finding itself in this grand coalition again," he said.
Officially, the Social Democrats dismissed Steinbrueck's statement and said the party was not aiming for another grand coalition.
And after headlines such as "Steinbrueck no longer believes Steinmeier will be chancellor," the finance minister himself was also forced to row back.
But since Sunday's television "duel," in which a moderator said that Merkel and Steinmeier appeared more like "an old married couple" than adversaries, speculation about another four years has been rife.
"This discussion was a sign that neither Merkel nor Steinmeier would have any objections to a continuation of the grand coalition," the mass-market Bild newspaper said, running the headline "Yes We Yawn," a play on Barack Obama's famous "Yes We Can" slogan in his 2008 campaign to become US president.
Voters seem amenable to the idea as well.
A new poll showed that both the conservatives and the Social Democrats had each gained a two-point bump from the debate, to 37 percent versus 24 percent.
Based on Germany's complicated electoral arithmetic, Merkel's Christian Democrats and the FDP, polling at 12 percent, would just barely be able to make the numbers add up for a ruling coalition with 49 percent of the vote.
The Forsa institute poll was conducted Monday, the day after the TV debate.
Steinmeier, who performed better than most viewers expected at the "duel," said he had felt a "tangible tailwind" this week and refused to admit that his prospects for winning the chancellery were slim.
He told Bild he had no desire to hash out potential coalition options until after election day, calling on the parties to "fight for their own ideas and beliefs."
Both candidates have stressed that a grand coalition is an "exception."
But surveys showed high numbers of undecided voters with 11 days to go until the poll, indicating a shaky basis for a centre-right majority.
And commentators noted a grand coalition also has distinct advantages for Merkel by keeping her party's biggest rivals on its team and muting criticism from powerful SPD allies such as the trade unions.
"The SPD and the Union have been dodging a fight in the campaign because they both want to keep governing together," the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said, noting that the centrist Merkel often seemed to have more in common with the Social Democrats than her own party.