German SPD to start talks with Merkel next week if members agree
The leader of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) said on Dec. 4 he would launch talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives on forming a government next week if members of his center-left party gave him the green light at a congress this weekend.
The remarks by Martin Schulz raised hopes that the two parties that suffered losses to the far right in an election in September could renew an alliance that has ruled Germany since 2013 and end the political deadlock in Europe's largest economy.
Merkel turned to the SPD after failing to form a three-way alliance with the left-leaning Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, plunging Germany into a political impasse and raising doubt about her future after 12 years in power.
"We'll explore whether and how the formation of a government is possible in Germany," Schulz told journalists.
The SPD party board leadership had earlier set down its key demands for coalition talks with the conservatives.
On the divisive issue of immigration, one of the main reasons for the collapse of Merkel's first effort, the SPD said it opposed a conservative plan to extend a ban on the right to family reunions for some asylum seekers.
"Family reunions and family cohabitation lead to good integration," the SPD document said. "That's why we are against extending the suspension of family reunions."
In a sign of the tensions likely to bubble up between the parties, Horst Seehofer, leader of the arch-conservative Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), warned the SPD not to try to prevent attempts to extend the ban on family reunifications.
"That would lead to such a huge migrant influx again that Germany's ability to integrate them all would be completely overstretched," Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), told Bild newspaper.
Schulz also said on Dec. 4 that he had been urged by French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders to join Merkel's next government and push for EU reforms.
If the SPD joins another governing alliance with Merkel's conservatives or allows her to run a minority government, "it won't be business as usual" in Berlin, vowed Schulz.
Schulz said he had been encouraged by European "sister parties" and some leaders, including Macron, to join Merkel's fourth government and help promote European reforms.
"The phone conversations I've had so far ... and the exchange of mails and text messages have been unanimous," he said.
The core message, he said, was that Germany should adopt "a progressive, a more social, a more dynamic policy on Europe."
"We take their message very seriously," said Schulz, a vocal critic of Berlin's tough austerity stance during the eurozone crisis when creditors demanded tough reforms from crisis-hit economies in return for international bailouts.
Macron has pushed for sweeping reforms, including a common eurozone finance minister and budget -- an idea that has received a lukewarm response from Merkel's conservatives who fear it could cost the top EU economy dearly.