CDU-Greens coalition talks end in Berlin

Door between parties ‘is not nailed shut’ as Merkel withdraws to consider options

There was a whiff of Casablanca in Berlin yesterday as Germany's Green Party left a coalition back door open to Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

A second round of exploratory talks between the two parties broke up early this morning with no concrete progress. But, like Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains on the Casablanca airstrip, the former political arch-enemies struck a remarkably conciliatory note as they strode off into the night.

After seven hours Green Party co-leaders Claudia Roth and Cem Özdemir spoke of "lovely talks" and a "serious effort to build bridges to each other". The bridge is not quite complete at present, Mr Özdemir admitted, sending Dr Merkel back to the Social Democrats (SPD) for a final round of exploratory talks on forming a second grand coalition.

But if those talks run into the sand Mr Özdemir said “it could of course be the case that, in the end, one talks once more”. “The door between Greens and CDU is not nailed shut for all time with nails that you can’t get out again,” he added.


Opposing positions
Each side admitted many differences of opinion on core issues from migration policy to EU and energy policy. The Greens want a statutory minimum wage of €8.50 and a cleaner transition to Germany's post-nuclear energy era in a decade's time. The CDU refused to commit and there was only "diffuse" talk on these key issues, but CDU general secretary Hermann Gröhe said there were "no opposing positions seen as insurmountable".

Even their Bavarian sister party, the Green-baiting Christian Social Union (CSU), said they were "very positively surprised" by the good atmosphere at the table. As in Bogart's Casablanca, most remarks in Berlin these days are to be interpreted as strategic code.

The CDU’s warm words for the Greens, for instance, precede a final round of exploratory talks with the SPD where Angela Merkel is anxious not to look like she has no other coalition options. Similarly, the Greens were determined yesterday to bulk up their dance card.

Steffi Lemke, a senior Green Party member, suggested that "now we're being open" it was time for the SPD to rethink the unthinkable and revisit the idea of a three-way coalition with the Greens and the far-left Linke. That option is considered even unlikelier than a CDU-Green coalition, but the post-coalition calm and mild talks about talks reflect a slow but steady reconfiguration in Germany's political landscape typified by the CDU and Greens.

Some 30 years ago, buttoned-down CDU MPs looked aghast when the first Green MPs entered the Bundestag with their beards, Birkenstocks and knitting. But after years of approaching the political centre from opposite directions, Germans are now looking on – like zookeepers – to see if the two sides will mate.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin