The leaders of Germany's Christian Democrats (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) were joined by federal and state ministers on Wednesday when they met to lay out a plan for talks on Sunday about a potential coalition government.Wednesday's joint statement from the parties, which talked of growing confidence, was good news for Merkel, whose reputation as Europe's consummate consensus-builder is on the line in this second bid to form a coalition government after weeks of sniping between its would-be partners.
Seeking a fourth term in office, Merkel saw her authority weakened in a national election in September, when support for her conservatives was eroded by the far right.
"Confidence has grown and we are optimistic heading into the talks," read the joint statement, issued after three hours of talks between Merkel and other leaders of her Christian Democrats (CDU), her Bavarian CSU allies and the SPD, as reported by Reuters.
Germany has now been without a government for the longest period since World War II after the CDU/CSU and SPD suffered their worst results since 1949 at the September 24 election.
The two blocs are at odds on issues from healthcare and immigration to Europe and pensions and, if no deal is done, Merkel's future as chancellor would be thrown into doubt with new elections a distinct prospect.
A solid base had been established "from which we can begin the talks," Martin Schulz, head of the SPD, said at the end of Wednesday's meeting, DPA reported.
The SPD objects to the Bavaria-based CSU's hard-line stance on refugees, its call for a sharp increase in the nation's military budget as well as placing limits on European integration and curtailing education reforms.
Despite the reluctance among SPD members, the party has agreed that its leader, Martin Schulz, should meet Merkel along with CSU leader Horst Seehofer to consider forging a new coalition. CDU/CSU and SPD parliamentary leaders are also to attend the talks.
But the coalition talks are now being further complicated by this year's state election in Bavaria, with the CSU gearing up for a tough campaign to head off the threat posed to the party's support by the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The SPD talks with the CDU/CSU are due to conclude on Jan. 12. However, an SPD party conference planned for January 21 is to decide whether to launch formal coalition negotiations with the CDU/CSU, with a new government unlikely to be taking up the reins of power until possibly April. An SPD vote in December had only approved exploratory talks.
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