No talks until Schroedergives up chancellery: Merkel

26th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

26 September 2005, BERLIN - Angela Merkel turned up the heat on Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by vowing Monday not to open formal talks for a coalition with his Social Democrats unless he gave up his demand to remain Germany's leader.

26 September 2005

BERLIN - Angela Merkel turned up the heat on Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by vowing Monday not to open formal talks for a coalition with his Social Democrats unless he gave up his demand to remain Germany's leader.

Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) came in first in Germany's September 18 election but failed to win a majority, leaving the nation in political deadlock.

Both Merkel and Schroeder have claimed the right to set up the next government.

Merkel, who met with Schroeder for exploratory talks last week and will do so again on Wednesday, stressed that formal negotiations for a grand coalition between her CDU/CSU and the Chancellor's SPD would only take place if Schroeder dropped claims to the chancellery.

"The precondition on trust is that we, as the biggest party, put up the chancellor," said Merkel.

Aside from assurances the SPD was not seeking to set up a minority government when the new parliament convenes by October 18, Merkel set several other conditions before full-blown coalition talks can begin.

She said both parties must agree on the general state of the nation and its problems, including massive budget deficits. There also had to be agreement on the key problem areas to be tackled including the controversial issue of further jobless benefit cuts.

Comments by Schroeder at the weekend had been interpreted as showing he was softening his insistence on staying on as head of a grand coalition.

But remarks Monday by leading members of his SPD - which appear to have been coordinated by the party - made clear there was no softening of this demand.

"Gerhard Schroeder will be chancellor," said Ludwig Stiegler, a deputy leader of the SPD in parliament.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, who heads the development aid ministry, insisted: "Frau Merkel has lost."

On election night, Schroeder vowed to stay on as chancellor despite the fact that his SPD won 34.3 per cent compared to 35.2 per cent for Merkel's CDU/CSU.

Merkel's party won about 444,000 votes more than Schroeder's SPD and has 225 seats in the Bundestag, compared with 222 for the SPD.

Since then Schroeder has proposed a variety of scenarios, including sharing the chancellorship with Merkel on a rotating basis.

But all such proposals have been rejected by Merkel's party.

Trying a different approach, Schroeder on Sunday said it was imperative to put together a viable grand coalition first, adding that the issue of who should be chancellor could be decided later.

This proposal was torpedoed by Merkel at her Monday news briefing.

Rising pressure for an awkward marriage of Merkel's and Schroeder's parties came after efforts by both leaders to forge coalitions with other smaller parties failed last week.

Schroeder's bid to woo the centrist Free Democrats (FDP) was stymied by FDP head Guido Westerwelle's staunch support of Merkel.

And Merkel's talks with the SPD's current coalition partners, the Greens, broke down on Friday with both sides saying the chasm between the leftist Greens and the conservative Christian Democrats was just too great.

The FDP took 61 seats, yielding total backing for Merkel of 286, well short of the 307 'chancellor majority' required in the initial balloting for the chancellor in the Bundestag.

The Greens, who have been in coalition with the SPD for the past seven years, secured 51 seats. This gives Schroeder's outgoing SPD-Greens bloc 273 seats.

*sidebar1*The Left Party of former East Germany's communists and rebel SPD members took 54 seats, placing it fourth behind the FDP and ahead of the Greens.

Schroeder has vowed not to use the Left Party to get reelected but there is speculation he may use the informal backing of the party to set up a minority government.

Under Germany's constitution, if voting for a new chancellor in the Bundestag fails to yield the 'chancellor majority' in two rounds then a third round of voting is held in which the candidate who gets the most votes is elected head of government.

This, however, must be given a green light by Germany's federal president, Horst Koehler, who could instead reject the result as too unstable and call new elections.

The Bundestag meets on October 18 at the latest to begin the process of choosing a new chancellor.


Subject: German news

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