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Coalition options for Merkel narrow as Greens pull out of talks

Conservative leaders said the Greens withdrew from coalition talks after concluding that differences were too large to overcome.

Written by New York Times | Berlin | Published: October 17, 2013 1:24:06 am

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s options for building a new German government narrowed Wednesday after one of two potential coalition partners withdrew from talks,setting the stage for a possible grand coalition of her conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats.

The decision by the Greens,one of the potential coalition partners,not to pursue further negotiations with Merkel’s party,the centre-right Christian Democratic Union,and its Bavaria-only sister party,the Christian Social Union,does not mean that negotiations with the other potential partner,the Social Democrats,will be any swifter or easier. But it increases the pressure on the conservative bloc to compromise with the Social Democrats,who are demanding a high price for participation in a government.

Conservative leaders said the Greens withdrew from coalition talks early Wednesday after concluding that differences over crucial issues,including a minimum wage,tax increases and changes to the public health insurance system,were too large to overcome.

“We had to accept after these talks the Greens’ position that they are unable to recommend we enter into formal coalition negotiations,” Hermann Gröhe,general secretary of the Christian Democrats,told reporters. “We respect that,but at the same I think that these talks were important in terms of better understanding the other side.”

Although Merkel’s conservatives won a plurality with 41.5 per cent in the September 22 elections,they fell five seats short of a governing majority. The Greens,who got 8.4 per cent of the vote,won enough seats to create a majority under Merkel if they entered a coalition.

If Social Democrats,who won 25.7 per cent of the vote,enter into government with the chancellor’s bloc,the Greens will become a main opposition force,along with the Left party. The Greens remain one of the youngest parties in Germany’s political landscape and have never governed with the conservatives at the national level,although there have been coalitions between the two in municipal and state governments. Despite their roots in the leftist and environmental movements of the 1960s and ‘70s,the Greens have recently appealed to a more centrist audience,and the idea of a coalition had sparked the imaginations many younger conservatives.

Nevertheless,a majority of Germans said even before the September vote that they preferred a government made up of the conservatives and the Social Democrats. Merkel governed in such a grand coalition of the two largest parties from 2005 to 2009,a period that many credit for the stability that set the country on a course to weather the global economic downturn largely unscathed.

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