BERLIN: Tough talks to form Germany’s next government went into overtime Friday, putting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political future in the balance as failure to produce a deal could force snap elections.
Merkel’s disputed liberal refugee policy that let in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015 came back to haunt her, with a motley crew of potential partners digging in their heels on diametrically opposed demands on immigration.
After weeks of quarrelsome exploratory talks, Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning Greens are hoping to find enough common ground to begin formal coalition negotiations.
The awkward bedfellows have been pushed together by September’s inconclusive election, which left Merkel badly weakened as the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) lured millions of voters angry over the refugee influx.
Merkel had initially said she wanted to wind up the negotiations by Thursday, but marathon overnight talks failed to produce a breakthrough.
Party leaders will resume their high-stakes haggling at midday Friday, and negotiators have signaled that talks could drag into the weekend.
“We shouldn’t put ourselves under pressure,” said Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff.
He also voiced optimism about reaching a deal, saying that “the problem is solvable”.
But the deputy leader of the liberal FDP, Wolfgang Kubicki, sounded more pessimistic, warning that “the positions have hardened.”
‘Merkel’s career at stake’
After suffering a humiliating loss at the polls, the center-left Social Democratic Party has gone into opposition and ruled out returning to a grand coalition with Merkel.
The veteran leader, who has steered Germany through crises including the global financial meltdown and the eurozone’s debt woes, therefore risks returning to the polls if she fails to get the CSU, FDP and Greens on board.
But the potential tie-up, dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the parties’ colors match those of the Jamaican flag, is also untested at the national level and questions abound as to how stable such a government would be.
“It’s not just the chancellor’s fourth term that depends on the success of Jamaica, but her entire political career,” the best-selling Bild newspaper said.
A 62-page working document that could form the blueprint for an agreement, seen by Agence France-Presse, showed that the parties remain at odds over several issues, with migration among the most contentious.
Merkel’s Bavarian CSU allies want a cap on migrant numbers, pitting them against the Greens who want restrictions eased on family reunifications for asylum seekers.
The FDP’s Kubicki said his party has “tried to build bridges”, urging the Greens to soften their stance.
But the ecologists appear in little mood to compromise after already watering down key campaign pledges to overcome deadlocks on the environment.
The Greens notably abandoned demands for a 2030 end date for coal-fired plants and the internal combustion engine, and called on the other parties to show the same flexibility.
At the same time, Green proposals to make polluting diesel cars less attractive and close the country’s 20 dirtiest coal plants have also met with resistance from the conservatives and the FDP, who worry about job losses and disrupting the mighty auto and energy sectors.