Merkel’s deadlocked German coalition talks go into weekend extra time

Despite the chancellor’s brave face, the mood in her inner circle is black

Berlin deadlock: German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the 15-hour marathon talks session on Friday morning. Photograph: Stefanie Loos/EPA

Berlin deadlock: German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the 15-hour marathon talks session on Friday morning. Photograph: Stefanie Loos/EPA

 

With German coalition talks getting nowhere fast, Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold individual meetings over the weekend to try to break Berlin’s political deadlock.

Eight weeks on from the federal election, after four weeks of exploratory talks, a 15-hour marathon session ended at dawn on Friday with no movement on crucial points of disagreement, from immigration to climate policy. Putting a brave face on a missed deadline for agreement, Dr Merkel said on Friday: “The task to form a government for Germany is so important that the effort is worth it.”

Within her inner circle, however, the mood is black. “This isn’t a few politicians playing tactical games. There are huge differences,” one senior official from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party said.

On September 24th German voters handed the CDU its worst result in almost 70 years, leaving Dr Merkel only one viable option for a fourth term: an untested alliance with the liberal Free Democrats, the centre-left Greens and her own conservative Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU). As Thursday’s self-imposed deadline for substantial agreement came and went, the Green Party’s coleader Cem Özdemir joked: “We’re going into extra time.”

Berlin deadlock: German chancellor Angela Merkel (right) in the 15-hour marathon talks session with Greens and Free Democrats. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/AFP/Getty
Berlin deadlock: German chancellor Angela Merkel (right) in the 15-hour marathon talks session with Greens and Free Democrats. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/AFP/Getty

Bargaining chips

As its price for helping Dr Merkel back to power, the Greens want drastic cuts to coal power plants – which generate 40 per cent of German energy – in a bid to boost Germany’s fading climate goals. But they are encountering strong resistance from the CDU/CSU and Free Democrats. In return Green leaders are blocking plans by the others for a refugee cap and ban on successive immigration of immigrant families, in response to a recent surge in asylum seekers.

The Free Democratic Party, meanwhile, is looking for a cut to wage levies and is wary of signing up to any French euro-zone reform plans at a net cost to German taxpayers. The party’s deputy leader, Wolfgang Kubicki, made no bones of the lack of progress on Friday, saying that, after a 15-hour shut-in, all he wanted was to take a 90-minute shower. “What I really find fascinating is that, after four weeks, we are no further on with the principle issues,” he said.

Dr Merkel’s CSU sister party is being particularly prickly, other negotiators complain, suspicious that its hard line in Berlin is an attempt to win back supporters in next year’s Bavarian state election after September’s federal-poll meltdown.

Between the CSU and Greens, insiders describe the atmosphere of talks as particularly poisonous – boding ill for the longevity of any government – if it even comes together. Failure to activate her Jamaica option – so called because the party colours of the potential coalition partners match the island nation’s flag – could trigger fresh elections and a leave a serious dent in Dr Merkel’s authority.

With the clock ticking down, Armin Laschet, governor of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and a senior Merkel ally, conceded: “There is a lot of understanding on many issues but no compromises, and that’s the sad part.”