Schultz braced for high-stakes talks

Schultz braced for high-stakes talks

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and her former centre-left coalition partners from the Social Democrats (SPD) are due to hold talks today (Thursday) to patch together another government.

SPD leader Martin Schulz and Merkel are expected to discuss housing, health care and migrant policies. Any agreement could take weeks.

During the September election campaign, the SPD favoured more spending on education and infrastructure, health-insurance reform and no cap on the number asylum seekers.

It is thought the parties can reach a deal on migrant numbers, educational investment, hiring more police officers and improving creaking digital infrastructure.

The SPD governed in a “grand coalition” with Merkel since 2013.

Under pressure, Schulz agreed to hold talks with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The SPD has called for unified health insurance for all, co-financed by employers and staff. The idea is unpopular with privately insured people and the CDU is vigorously opposed.

Schulz had promised to leave the coalition after the September 24 election gave the left-of-centre party its worst results since 1949.

The SPD’s share of the vote has declined every time after it has governed with the CDU, with little prospect of another period in government improving the party’s prospects for the next general election.

Under pressure from within his party, Schulz dropped his categorical opposition to continuing the current arrangement between the two largest parties, who are traditionally rivals.

The veteran chancellor failed to form a coalition government with the pro-business Free Democrats and Greens earlier this month.

The delay in forming a new coalition has been the longest Merkel has endured.

Schulz said yesterday: “I cannot tell you what the outcome of these talks will be. I can ensure you only this: that I’ll campaign for the best solution for our country, that my party is aware of its overall responsibility for political stability.”

The CDU has no problem with SPD Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who would be more than happy to stay on but one area for debate will be spending priorities.

The CDU favours using surplus state revenues to finance a broad tax cut but the SPD wants tax relief to target low- to middle-income taxpayers, with possible increases in inheritance tax and income tax rates.

 

SPD leader Martin Schulz has always been in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s shadow. Picture credit: Flickr 

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