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CDU/CSU and SPD meet for third round of exploratory talks

The last round of exploratory talks between Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats has begun. Both sides say they must still find common ground to consider formal coalition negotiations.

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Social democrats now only option for Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel, alongside leaders from her Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), met with the Social Democrats (SPD) in Berlin on Thursday for the third and final round of exploratory talks. The meeting aims to determine whether the two parties want to begin formal coalition negotiations in order to form a government.

The possibility of forming a grand coalition has become increasingly likely, with the Greens party removing itself as a potential coalition partner earlier this week. However, the SPD has vowed to determine how realistic bridging the political gaps would be before taking the next step forward.

Should Thursday's meeting end with an agreement, the SPD would have to first put the deal to a vote among its 470,000 members before it could procede with coalition negotiations.

Minimum wage possible

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, CSU chief Horst Seehofer told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung the conservatives might be able to agree to the implementation of a nationwide minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.51), a precondition set by the SPD over the weekend.

Seehofer said the SPD demand was an important one, but could be costly if not implemented correctly.

"That's why we have to find a way to guarantee the introduction of a minimum wage, [but that] won't cost jobs," he said.

Following Monday's meeting, SPD Secretary General Andrea Nahles said discussions had brought "more clarity" to key issues dividing the parties. However, the two parties had not been able to reach substantive terms of forming a government.

Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc won a resounding victory in the September 22 federal elections, falling just five seats short of an absolute majority. Its junior coalition partner, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), did not make the five-percent threshold needed to secure seats in parliament, forcing the chancellor to find a new coalition partner.

The SPD has reiterated concerns over entering into another grand coalition with Merkel because of the party's experiences in the grand coalition between 2005 and 2009. The partnership is believe to have resulted in the SPD's worst-ever election results in the election that followed.

kms/hc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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