German coalition talks go down to the wire
BERLIN — As Germany’s coalition talks approach the Thursday deadline set by Angela Merkel, there is still no agreement on many of the most contentious subjects among the four potential partners.
The chancellor’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU, have been in preliminary talks with the liberal Free Democrats and the Greens for more than three weeks. Now they all have to decide whether to take the next step and proceed with formal negotiations about forming a government.
Though both the Greens and the FDP signaled in recent days that they’re open to compromise on some of the thorniest issues, the parties remain far apart on areas like migration and climate policy which still stand between them and a deal.
Should they fail to come to an agreement, Germany could be forced to go to the polls once again — a scenario that would erode support for Merkel’s conservatives and embolden the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which won seats in the Bundestag for the first time in September’s general election.
With the wrangling expected to continue right up to the last minute on Thursday night, here’s where things stand on the top issues facing the would-be coalition partners:
Refugees were a major issue in September’s election and they have proven among the most difficult and controversial of subjects in the coalition talks, too.
Particularly contentious is family reunification — the right for refugees already in Germany to bring over family members. This is currently banned through to March 2018, but for the Greens it is a fundamental right that should be restored; the conservatives and liberal FDP, on the other hand, want the ban extended.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the Oberlin workshop for handicapped people in Potsdam | Ralf Hirschberger/AFP via Getty Images
“The right to family is a fundamental right, and that of course doesn’t only apply to the German family,” the Greens’ Claudia Roth said on German television this week.
Top conservatives threw cold water on the suggestion they could compromise on this point. Volker Kauder, a close Merkel ally, said there is “no room for maneuver,” citing concerns that upwards of 300,000 people could arrive under a family unification program.
The parties also disagree about whether to continue refugee deportations to Afghanistan, and on whether to impose an upper limit on the number of refugees allowed in each year (the Obergrenze). The Greens categorically reject any such limit but the CDU and CSU have agreed on a “soft” ceiling of 200,000. “That’s what’s on the table and we’re going to implement it that way,” said top CSU lawmaker Alexander Dobrindt.
Climate and environment
The would-be coalition partners broadly agree that Germany should stick to its climate goals for 2020, 2030 and 2050 — but have very different ideas about what, and how much, should be done to reach them.
The Greens believe Germany should aggressively shutter coal plants and work to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, in an effort to cut carbon emissions by up to 120 million metric tons by 2020. The other three parties argue that such drastic moves in the coal industry would hurt German industry, and call for slower progress and a reduction in emissions of up to 66 million tons.
Last week, the Greens indicated they were open to compromise on two key pillars of their platform: a proposed ban on new fossil fuel-powered cars after 2030, and a complete shutdown of coal-burning power plants by the same year. The conservatives, in particular the CSU, said the Greens’ overtures aren’t enough: “Of course there will not be an exit from coal,” Dobrindt said, calling the suggestion “completely absurd.”
The parties were expected to return to climate issues Wednesday, but appeared far from an overarching deal. “What’s lying on the table isn’t enough for us,” Greens leader Simone Peter said Monday, according to news agency DPA, after the other parties reportedly suggested shuttering 10 coal plants. (The Greens want to shut down 20.)
The Greens’ leaders need a deal they can sell to their base. The party plans to hold a conference on November 25 on whether to proceed to full-blown coalition talks.
The coalition talks are a clash between two very different visions of the future of farming in Germany.
The Greens want a more environmentally aware approach, such as promoting animal welfare, boosting financial incentives for sustainable farming and incorporating consumer protection into one big agriculture “super-ministry.” The conservatives — and especially the Bavarian CSU — favor a continued focus on more traditional farming methods and increased resources for rural areas.
Greens leaders Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Cem Oezdemir arrive for a news conference on January 18, 2017 in Berlin | Steffi Loos/Getty Images
Another contentious issue is how much to reduce pesticide use: The Greens want drastic reductions and a ban on the popular weedkiller glyphosate, which is currently being debated at EU level. Merkel’s camp is more focused on maintaining agricultural efficiency and opposes a glyphosate ban.
Some progress has been made in recent days: The CDU’s Julia Klöckner said on Tuesday night that there was an agreement on animal welfare labeling but pesticides were still being discussed.
Early on in the talks, the potential coalition partners pledged commitment to a “strong and united Europe” and played up the “heightened importance” of Franco-German cooperation. But they have got little further since discussing Europe in the first week of their talks, despite revisiting the subject this week.
Questions that remain open include EU defense cooperation and eurozone reforms. An internal document from the talks reported by Reuters last week showed there was still no agreement on a eurozone budget or the future of the eurozone bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). This week, the entire section about the ESM has reportedly been removed from the working document on Europe.
The FDP’s Christian Lindner hinted at compromise on the ESM last week. “As an 11-percent party, one cannot dictate the way for Germany and the whole of Europe,” he told Der Spiegel, adding that the ESM could be “an instrument for more discipline” if it remains.
One area where there is progress is education: The Rheinische Post newspaper reported on Tuesday that the four parties have agreed on the nationwide right to full-day care for primary school-age children. That follows progress last week on new funding for education and research, according to DPA, as well as money to improve conditions in vocational schools.
The Reichstag in Berlin | Carsten Koall/Getty Images
That said, the parties are less in agreement about how they’ll implement these proposed policies: The federal government has very little purview over education which is largely the competence of Germany’s 16 regional states (or Länder).
All four parties favor allowing more cooperation between the federal and state governments on education issues, but disagree on just how big the change should be: The FDP and the Greens go much further than the conservatives and have called for changes in areas of the constitution that deal with the distribution of powers on education.