Chancellor Angela Merkel opened talks on Thursday with Social Democrat chief Martin Schulz hoping to end Germany’s political stalemate, but the atmosphere has already been poisoned by disobedience within her ranks.
Held at the invitation of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the talks started at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) as the party leaders sought to explore if they are ready to launch negotiations on forming Germany’s next government.
Steinmeier put his office at the disposal of his guests, then decamped to a literary function in Berlin, where he declared that “I am experiencing the most relaxing part of my day.”
After September’s elections left Merkel without a majority, the Social Democrats (SPD) firmly ruled out renewing an alliance as they had suffered a humiliating loss at the polls.
But as Merkel’s bid at forming a coalition with the ecologist Greens and pro-business FDP fell apart earlier this month, the SPD came under pressure to relent and avert snap elections.
Public opinion also appeared to be behind the two sides opening talks, with a poll commissioned by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung showing 61 percent of Germans want the SPD to enter coalition negotiations with Merkel’s conservatives.
Spiegel weekly noted that Thursday’s meeting, which also ropes in Horst Seehofer — leader of Merkel’s Bavarian allies — was crucial for the chancellor.
“For Merkel, it’s a fight for political survival that’s starting,” said Spiegel.
“Merkel must do everything to forge this alliance — the only one that would ensure stable power,” it added.
But the talks are clouded by a political storm sparked this week by a member of her conservatives, Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, who flouted the government’s line by voting in favour of approving a disputed weedkiller during an EU meeting.
The action, which Schmidt said he took unilaterally, was condemned as a “breach of trust” by the SPD, which has been junior coalition partner in Merkel’s cabinet since 2013.