Angela Merkel at a press point at the SPD headquarters in Berlin, 11 January 2018
Angela Merkel and the Social Democrats fought on Friday to overcome their differences to form a government in Germany, during last-ditch negotiations in which the Chancellor conservative plays her political survival.
After about eighteen hours of negotiations in Berlin, no agreement was in sight around 01:00 GMT. According to several German media, the discussions skate especially on tax issues.
A result could only be announced at dawn, sources close to the negotiators said, excluding any postponement.
„It will be a hard day,“ Angela Merkel warned before the final round of negotiations, speaking of „big obstacles“ to overcome.
After first failing in November to agree on a majority coalition with environmentalists and liberals, she no longer has the right to make mistakes.
The 63-year-old Chancellor said she was ready to „find constructive compromises“ between her Christian-Democratic side (CDU and CSU) and the Social Democrats of the SPD, but without going beyond certain red lines.
SPD Chairman Martin Schulz also spoke of „big hurdles“ to overcome.
Faced with the risk of deadlock, German Social Democrat President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called on both sides to overcome their differences in the name of the national interest.
The task of forming a government „is a responsibility vis-à-vis Europe,“ he said. So does Germany’s reputation for „reliability“ „on the international stage,“ the head of state added.
– ‚Losers Coalition‘ –
The negotiations are taking place in an unfavorable political context for both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats.
Some media have already described their possible alliance as a „coalition of losers“ because both sides were sanctioned by voters in the legislative elections, marked by the breakthrough of the far right.
Between them, they represent only a small majority of votes. Angela Merkel, in power for twelve years, won a Pyrrhic victory with a historically low score and the SPD suffered a humiliation in September.
A majority of Germans (56%) believe that the Chancellor will leave office before the end of its possible next term, according to a poll published Thursday by the daily Handelsblatt.
On the merits, the differences remain important. The Conservatives, especially the CSU, which is already campaigning for regional elections this autumn, are calling for tougher migration policies and limited tax cuts for all.
The SPD advocates for a relaxation of family reunification for refugees, significant investments in education and infrastructure, and support for the middle and lower classes.
He also wants at all costs to impose a higher tax rate for high wages of 42 to 45%, a requirement that CSU categorically rejects.
– Unknown SPD –
Potential partners have, however, been able to make progress on certain issues, such as a law on skilled immigration, which is essential for the first European economy to the aging population.
The Social Democrats should not reveal until Friday if they recommend a new coalition.
Then it will be up to the party delegates, meeting in special convention on January 21st, to say whether or not they approve of detailed negotiations. And in the end, the activists will have to approve the government contract.
If all goes well, a new executive will be in place only at the end of March, while all Europe is impatient. France in particular, waiting for a response to its proposals for reforms of the euro area.
This is one of the requirements of the SPD: „If we agree to return to the government, it would only be on the condition of strengthening Europe,“ insisted Mr. Schulz Thursday.
Even if there is an agreement on Thursday night, the base of the SPD, who will have the last word, can make everything eventually run out. And she remains very skeptical about serving as a backup to the Conservatives.
„For the party base, the idea of a new coalition remains catastrophic,“ said the head of the young social democrats Kevin Kühnert.
Martin Schulz badly needs a success, otherwise „he will have big difficulties to convince the delegates then the militants of the necessity of a great coalition“, underlines Gustav Horn, director of the Think Tank IMK, close to the unions, on the Phoenix television channel.