Tension brews as Merkel kicks off coalition talks
The talks, between Merkel's conservatives and the liberal Free Democrats, could last weeks as they thrash out the policies -- and the ministers -- needed to haul Europe's top economy from its worst post-war slump.Berlin -- Freshly re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel embarks Monday on what could be prickly talks with her new coalition partners as tension mounts between them over tax policy and ministerial posts.
The talks, between Merkel's conservatives (CDU/CSU) and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), could last weeks as they thrash out the policies -- and the ministers -- needed to haul Europe's top economy from its worst post-war slump.
Merkel has said she wants negotiations wrapped up and a new government in place by November 9, when Germany welcomes world leaders to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But a report in mass-circulation daily Bild Monday said she wanted to pickup the pace, with a working government installed by October 27, in time for the first session of the new parliament.
FDP chief Guido Westerwelle, who is expected to become vice-chancellor and foreign minister, has tried to rein Merkel in, telling the Bild am Sonntag weekly he would prefer "thoroughness ahead of speed."
"All three partners should know that thoroughness is much more important for our country than the question of whether we take a few more days to sit down and negotiate," he said.
And the FDP, junior partners in the new coalition with 14.6 percent of the vote in last Sunday's elections, were pulling no punches as negotiations kicked off.
"The FDP brings about one third of the votes to this coalition. That means we have a strong electoral mandate and we want to look after that," the party's deputy leader, Cornelia Pieper, told MDR public television Monday.
Andreas Pinkwart, another senior FDP official, told ZDF television: "We want a new start for Germany and we need to negotiate hard for that."
Among several areas that could prove tricky during the talks, the sharpest point of discord between the new allies is likely to be fiscal policy.
Although all sides agree on the need for tax cuts to jump-start Germany's ailing economy, the two sides are poles apart on how far taxes can be slashed given gaping holes in the public purse.
During the campaign, the business-friendly FDP called for tax cuts amounting to 35 billion euros (51 billion dollars) while the CDU/CSU pledged only 15 billion and stressed the need to rein in the budget deficit.
A leaked working paper reportedly drawn up by Merkel's office said the deficit would need slashing by 40 billion euros, drastically limiting the fiscal room for manoeuvre.
Other areas of potential disagreement include labour market policies, energy policy and health care.
Tension is also brewing over how key ministerial posts are divided up, with the finance ministry appointment seen as the most likely to stoke friction.
Weekend media reports said that Merkel wanted the finance post for the CDU and had lined up senior party man Roland Koch for the task, although Koch himself played down his chances.
Other names in the frame are CSU rising star Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, currently economy minister, and Hermann Otto Solms, the FDP's foremost thinker and spokesman on economic policy.
Monday's talks are scheduled to begin at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) but are unlikely to result in concrete decisions immediately.
Twenty-seven senior politicians, nine from each party, will take part in the talks and will later split off into 10 working groups to hammer out individual policy areas.
A second round of negotiations is expected Thursday.