Germany’s centre-left torn over new power pact with Chancellor Angela Merkel

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Germany’s Social Democrats, the country’s second-largest party, plans to decide Thursday whether or not to help Chancellor Angela Merkel end months of political paralysis in Europe’s biggest economy.

Party leader Martin Schulz has asked his deeply divided SPD to give him the green light for exploratory talks on joining Merkel in another coalition government starting in early 2018.

“For us, nothing is pre-determined, nothing is automatic,” Schulz said this week, while also noting that another option would be to allow Merkel to run a minority government, an idea she has so far opposed as too unstable.

Schulz, a main loser of September’s elections who now may be kingmaker, has vowed to extract maximum concessions for his 150-year-old labour party, including social welfare gains and steps toward greater “solidarity” in Europe.

He also supports French President Emmanuel Macron’s sweeping vision for EU reform as well as a departure from Berlin’s insistence on austerity in crisis-hit economies.

If the tough coalition poker indeed kicks off next week, Schulz will have to prove he can drive a hard bargain with Merkel, having backflipped on his repeated vows to take the SPD into the opposition.

For now, it is still a long and rocky road toward a new “grand coalition” government of Merkel’s conservative bloc and the SPD — and new elections loom if they fail to reach a deal.