BERLIN – Following a marathon session of more than 24 hours of talks, Germany’s main two political parties on Friday reached an initial agreement for a future grand coalition government, according to the parties’ leaders.
Acting Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, alongside Horst Seehofer – the leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union – and Martin Schulz of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) said in a joint conference that they had settled on a 28-page blueprint detailing the first policy measures that have been agreed on, clearing the path for the next stage in the negotiations to begin.
“The people want the country to work,” said Merkel, before going on to describe the deal as a process of “giving and taking, as an agreement should,” in order to encompass the depth and breadth of German society.
“Many, many hours of work, serious wrangling and shaping are contained in these 28 pages,” Merkel added, explaining that the parties had reached a “solid and serious” agreement that would be able to guarantee the country’s governance.
“I believe we have reached outstanding results,” said Schulz, despite acknowledging that the night of talks had seen some “turbulent moments.”
Seehofer said he was highly satisfied with the outcome, adding that the CSU’s 40 negotiators had unanimously voted for the blueprint.
“The reports that you’re reading are correct,” SPD spokesman Serkan Agci had confirmed earlier in the day to journalists gathered outside his party’s headquarters in Berlin.
Nevertheless, Agci clarified that the blueprint was being read over by the leadership of both parties, with the SPD deciding that there was still a need for several amendments to the document.
“It encompasses more than just wording issues,” he added, in reference to the changes that were being sought by the social democrats.
The compromises reached in this preliminary deal include a change to the health insurance contributions system pursued by the SPD that would equalize the amounts paid by employers and employees into so-called “sickness funds,” thus reversing a 2005 reform that put the burden of premium increases on those being insured.
On the other hand, the social democrats ceded to CDU demands for a cap on the number of relatives allowed to reunite with refugees living in asylum in Germany.
Both parties have also reached a consensus on a 10-billion-euro ($1.2-billion) reduction to the surtax dedicated to financing East-West reunification efforts.
The SPD’s delegates are set to vote on Jan. 21 in an extraordinary party congress in Bonn whether or not to proceed to the second phase of talks.
The party is split between those who believe entering the coalition would help achieve some of the SPD’s goals and those who are weary of compromising progressive ideals to accommodate the conservative agenda of the CDU/CSU.
An initial attempt by Merkel to form a governing coalition faltered in Nov. when tripartite negotiations between the CDU, the liberal Free Democratic Party and the environmentalist Alliance 90/The Greens collapsed.
The so-called “Jamaica coalition” – in reference to the three parties’ colors, reminiscent of the Caribbean nation’s flag – broke down when the FDP decided to break off talks due to insurmountable disagreements.
At the time, the SPD had vowed to go into opposition rather than revisit another grand coalition with the conservatives after the party saw its worst result since World War II in the Sept. 24 federal elections, earning just 25.7 percent of the vote and 153 seats in the 709-member Bundestag, the lower chamber of the German parliament.
However, following the Jamaica experiment’s complete failure, the social democrats reversed course in early December and acceded to initiate exploratory talks with the CDU rather than let Merkel form an unstable minority government or face new elections.
These talks, which began Sunday, have proceeded with the utmost discretion due to fears that any leaks could lead to substantial setbacks in progress.