German Parties Reconvene as Coalition Talks Deadline Looms

(Bloomberg) -- German party officials meet again Wednesday to continue efforts to find common ground on key policies just two days before a self-imposed deadline to determine whether Chancellor Angela Merkel will be able to form a multi-party coalition government.

As Merkel’s Christian Democrats, her Bavarian allies, the pro-market Free Democrats and the environmental Greens reconvene for closed-door talks in Berlin, the parties are struggling to reconcile differences on issues including transport, climate policy, migration and Europe. All sides are under pressure to avoid a new election.

“The big problems are not all off the table, so it’s going to be battled out in public as well as behind closed doors,” Michael Grosse-Broemer, the parliamentary whip for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told broadcaster Phoenix Tuesday. While the parties had reached broad agreement in areas including education and research, it will take heavy lifting on the divisive issues to be able to form a government, he said.

Merkel and other party leaders sat down Tuesday with expert teams from various negotiating groups to disentangle differences on social, economic, transport and foreign policy. Leaders want to wrap up exploratory talks that may run overnight into Friday before determining that they have enough in common to forge a government. Only then will they enter official coalition talks.

“We’re in the final stretch and have to see how we can reach the finish line,” Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a co-leader of the Greens, told reporters Tuesday. “There are big chunks ahead of us still. We’ve come here with the will to negotiate, but we’ve also come with clear goals.”

New Election

Should talks fail, Merkel’s options for forming a fourth government will narrow. Germany’s Social Democrats, with whom she’s governed since 2013, have vowed not to enter another coalition with the three-term chancellor after suffering their worst electoral defeat since World War II. Barring a minority government, the only remaining option may be to hold a new election -- unprecedented in the federal republic’s 68-year history.

Holding another vote is seen as a risky prospect given the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which won 12.6 percent in September.

The chancellor has maintained a low profile after emerging victorious but weakened in the Sept. 24 election, focusing her energies on making the multi-party coalition work. Officials aim to establish a written preliminary agreement by the end of the week, which the Greens plan to put to a party conference vote on Nov. 25. That’s viewed as the main obstacle before the groups reconvene for official coalition talks, during which they’ll draw up a blueprint for the next four years.

Major differences emerged on transport policy Tuesday, with four hours of negotiations between top-level negotiators yielding no results on reducing pollution and managing the switch to cleaner vehicles, Alexander Dobrindt, head of the Bavarian Christian Social Union in parliament, told reporters. The Greens’ Goering-Eckardt said earlier that emissions from dirty diesels must be cut, including through retrofitting measures financed by carmakers.

“There is no convergence in mobility and transport. It’s going to be very, very hard,” Dobrindt said. “The Greens argue with restrictions and bans on mobility. I don’t see how that’s easy to resolve right now.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.