German leftist opposition to thrash out Merkel overture

27th September 2013, Comments 0 comments

Germany's defeated opposition Social Democrats on Friday will debate overtures by Chancellor Angela Merkel for a "grand coalition" government, with the centre-left party torn over the risks of accepting.

Merkel's conservatives carried off a decisive win in weekend elections but it was not enough to govern without a partner. They have already tapped the Social Democratic Party (SPD) for a potential alliance.

But haunted by memories of its last tie-up with Merkel during her first term 2005-2009 when SPD supporters left the party in their droves, punishing it with its worst ever ballot box result, many SPD members are gun-shy.

Most Germans support a left-right coalition, a poll for ARD public television showed Friday, with 48 percent preferring a grand coalition over the alternative of the CDU teaming up with another potential ally, the ecologist Greens.

That partnership option won 18-percent backing in the poll.

At a mini SPD party conference, around 200 members will gather behind closed doors later Friday to discuss whether to kick off what would likely be tough coalition negotiations with Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

SPD member of parliament Johannes Kahrs said the party should not accept anything less than an equal partnership with Merkel and her conservatives.

"The CDU must simply realise that anything less than 50-50 ... won't work and also won't be accepted by the (party) members," Kahrs told rolling news channel NTV.

He said key SPD demands included a national minimum wage, equality for gays and lesbians, the option of dual citizenship, a rent cap and tighter regulation of short-term and temporary work contracts.

Hubertus Heil, deputy head of the SPD's parliamentary group, set the tone for the weeks to come, in which the party will attempt to drive up the price of a partnership high enough to avoid losing face with their members.

"There is nothing automatic about a grand coalition," he told public broadcaster NDR.

"If Mrs Merkel thinks she can just carry on as she has done then there won't be a grand coalition."

Germany's top-selling daily, Bild, said the talks between the traditional rivals would be protracted.

"We could be in for the most difficult coalition negotiations in the history of the republic," it wrote, recalling that the SPD and the CDU needed two months to seal a deal in 2005.

SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel wants to let the rank-and-file decide whether to support forming a coalition by putting it to a vote among the 470,000 members at the end of any negotiations with the CDU, the centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported Friday.

The issue of a party referendum on an alliance with Merkel is expected to play a key role in Friday's SPD talks but it has its fierce opponents.

"Our boards and the party congress are democratically elected and the right ones to decide that," SPD executive board member Christoph Matschie told news website Zeit Online.

SPD premier of Lower Saxony state Stephan Weil meanwhile told ARD television that asking the full membership to decide could have a "calming effect", following Sunday's disappointment at the polls.

The SPD, a venerable force in Germany politics now in its 150th year, has cause to view another alliance with Merkel with trepidation.

During their four years together, the SPD watched helplessly as Merkel claimed credit for shepherding Europe's top economy safely through the financial crisis while its own political profile was diluted.

A further object lesson is the fate of the Free Democrats (FDP), Merkel's junior partner during her second term.

They crashed out of parliament in Sunday's election for the first time since 1949 after hemorrhaging support to the conservatives.

Website Spiegel Online compared Merkel this week to a black widow who devours her mates.

And the daily Tagesspiegel on Friday featured a cartoon with Merkel as a ravenous cat beckoning the SPD to emerge from its mouse hole.

"Come on out! Think about your civic responsibility to the state," she purrs.

© 2013 AFP

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