German coalition negotiators still seeking deal after all-night talks

 07 Feb 2018 - 10:46

German coalition negotiators still seeking deal after all-night talks
Outside view during coalition talks at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) headquarters in Berlin, Germany, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

By Andreas Rinke and Paul Carrel | Reuters

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) negotiated through the night into Wednesday in a marathon final push to nail down a new coalition agreement.

Negotiators from the two blocs remained locked in talks at the headquarters of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), where they began meeting at 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) on Tuesday.

Merkel's office said in a statement a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni had been pushed back to 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) from 1.10 p.m. (1210 GMT).

Finance Minister Peter Altmaier, a close Merkel ally, and SPD Justice Minister Heiko Maas both cancelled scheduled early morning broadcast interviews.

Merkel has struggled to cobble together a government more than four months after a national election, raising concerns among investors and partner countries at a time when Europe is facing multiple challenges - including the need for euro zone reform and Britain's departure from the European Union.

The SPD suffered its worst result in a September national election since Germany became a federal republic in 1949 and initially vowed to rebuild in opposition.

However, party leader Martin Schulz changed course and opened negotiations with Merkel after she failed to clinch a coalition deal with the Greens and Free Democrats in November.

Vowing to negotiate until the conservatives "squeal", the SPD has been trying to extract concessions on healthcare and employment policy that could win over sceptics among its 464,000 members, who will be asked to ratify any final coalition deal.

Sources involved in the negotiations said the conservative bloc had reopened topics that had previously been agreed.

Both Merkel's conservative bloc and the SPD are under pressure not to concede too much in the negotiations or see their support ebb further.

An Insa poll on Monday showed support for the SPD dropping to 17 percent, below its election result of 20.5 percent. The conservatives slipped to 30.5 percent, suggesting there would be no majority for a grand coalition if an election were held now. 

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