Short of time to form coalition, German parties still apart on migration

German party leaders met for exploratory talks of the four political parties in Berlin, Germany, 07 November 2017 [EPA-EFE/FILIP SINGER]

German parties meet on Wednesday (15 November) to debate the hot issue of immigration with sides divided on whether to limit migrant numbers and with only one day left to conclude exploratory talks for forming a new coalition government.

Negotiators will also discuss Europe, finance and energy policy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the exploratory talks to end on Thursday, when German media expect her to press all sides to strike a compromise before moving to formal negotiations.

She needs the new team to work to head off fresh elections that mainstream politicians fear could see the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) make further gains after it surged into parliament for the first time after a September election.

Migration as hot topic

On Wednesday, negotiators will try to narrow their differences on immigration – the issue that cost Merkel support in September’s national election after her 2015 decision to leave German borders open to more than 1 million migrants. At stake is a plan by Merkel’s conservative bloc to cap the number of people Germany will accept per year on humanitarian grounds at 200,000 – a limit the environmentalist Greens reject.

Merkel urges compromise as coalition talks enter final stretch

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday (12 November) urged party leaders negotiating a tricky three-way coalition government to show more willingness to compromise, as support for her conservative bloc plunged to the lowest level in more than six years.

“There must be a limit,” Volker Bouffier, conservative premier in the western state of Hesse, told ARD television. “We say 200,000 is a reasonable level, if one looks at recent years. But we have not yet achieved our objective.”

The parties are also at odds over the number of foreigners who qualify to join relatives granted asylum in Germany. Asked if negotiators could overcome their differences at Wednesday’s meeting, Bouffier replied: “I am confident. We will see.”

“Jamaica is not a pleasure trip”

The mood music coming out of the talks has been mixed. Late on Tuesday, Merkel and other senior conservatives drank wine with Greens co-leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt, conservative party sources said. But the coalition negotiations are complicated by the dynamics within the conservative bloc, which comprises Merkel’s CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

The CSU, worried about losing support in a state election next year, is uncompromising on immigration – a risk for the three-way ‘Jamaica’ coalition, so-called because the parties’ colours match those of the Caribbean country’s flag.

German coalition talks: One step forward, two steps back

Successful coalition talks between the four involved German parties is far from a done deal, even as CDU/CSU leaders Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer are striking a confident tone.

CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer said his party was ready to compromise, but added: “It is becoming ever more clear that Jamaica is not a pleasure trip … And some members of the expedition group have not yet set their compass properly.”

Liberals tough on finance
FDP negotiator Volker Wissing questioned finance ministry estimates that the next government will have some 30 billion euros ($35.48 billion) available for additional measures over the next four years, arguing 40 billion would be available.

The FDP wants to prioritize tax relief. Wissing also played down the idea of expanding the role of the euro zone’s rescue mechanism, the ESM, which some politicians want to turn into a more powerful European Monetary Fund.

“An expansion of the stabilisation program is definitely not possible with the FDP,” he told ARD.


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