Schroeder will remainchancellor: SPD chief
28 September 2005
BERLIN – Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel, whose conservatives won the most votes in Germany’s inconclusive elections earlier this month, will hold a second round of talks Wednesday aimed at a possible grand coalition government.
The meeting, which begins late in the afternoon, is not expected to achieve any major breakthrough in part because both leaders are awaiting results of a by-election in Dresden this Sunday.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU) won 225 seats in the Bundestag, parliament’s lower house, compared to 222 seats for Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SPD) in Germany’s September 18 general election. The Dresden vote could shift up to two seats and will not change the balance of power in the chamber.
Both Merkel and Schroeder have been insisting since election night that they should head the next German government.
Remarks by Schroeder on Tuesday, widely interpreted as showing he might be willing to stand down, were swiftly clarified by SPD chief Franz Muentefering.
“We have a clear goal: a coalition at the same eye level (as the CDU/CSU) with Gerhard Schroeder as chancellor,” said Muentefering in a Bild newspaper interview.
Some media reports said Schroeder’s SPD is seeking to win over three or more members of the Left Party – a fusion of former East Germany’s communists and rebel SPD members from the west – in order to become the biggest party in the Bundestag and cement his demand to remain chancellor.
But newspapers with close ties to the SPD such as Munich’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the Berliner Kurier tabloid report the party is looking for a way to stay in power by dumping Schroeder.
“How do I say it to my Gerd?” was a Berliner Kurier headline with a photo showing Muentefering whispering into Schroeder’s ear.
The Sueddeutsche quoted SPD sources saying that Schroeder himself and other party leaders were preparing a climb-down from their chancellery demand.
Given that at least 307 votes are needed for a parliamentary majority and attempts to form coalitions with smaller parties have failed, the focus is now on a possible marriage of Schroeder’s and Merkel’s parties in a grand coalition government.
Bild said that among likely ministers for such a government under a chancellor Merkel would be the current SPD interior minister Otto Schily who would shift to the foreign ministry; Bavarian CSU Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber as a super-minister for economics and transport; and moderate former SPD premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Peer Steinbrueck, as finance minister.
Schroeder, up until now, has insisted negotiations focus on concrete policy issues such as economic reforms while demanding the question of who will be chancellor only be decided at the end of talks.
But Merkel says she is not willing to begin full-blown coalition talks until Schroeder formally recognises her right to be the next German leader.
The newspaper Die Welt, citing CDU/CSU sources, said Merkel will open the talks by offering to allow the popular SPD Bundestag president Wolfgang Thierse to stay on in office if Schroeder drops his demand for the chancellery.
As the biggest party in the chamber, the CDU/CSU, would normally provide the parliamentary president.
Subject: German news