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Germany

Coalition Partners Face Barriers to Progress

Official talks on forming a grand coalition between the Germany's bloc of conservatives and outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats will be going into a second round on Monday.

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Unusually perky threesome: Merkel, Müntefering and Schröder

The talks between the Christian Union and the SPD on Monday aim to break barriers to a working grand coalition

The negotiating parties are set to analyze the findings of expert-level working groups with a view to identifying common ground in key areas. Monday's meeting, however, is expected to be overshadowed by infighting in both camps over important party posts and the future shaping of ministries as well as over mistakes made during the autumn election campaign which had left Germany in an inconclusive political situation.

Christian Democratic chief and chancellor-designate Angela Merkel will be entering today's round of coalition talks with the stigma that her party has shown the worst performance at any general election since 1949 by garnering only slightly more than 35 percent of the vote.

A genuine analysis of why the conservatives fared so badly on Sept. 18 is still pending. The CDU's rank-and-file believe that a merciless analysis of election campaign mistakes should come at once.

It's the CDU's youth wing in particular which is calling for a clean breast to be made. At its national meeting in Augsburg on Sunday, many conservative youth leaders expressed harsh criticism of how Angela Merkel and the leader of the CDU's sister party in Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber, communicated the conservatives' election manifesto to potential voters.

Rüttgers: Coalition talks must take precendence

Landtagswahl in NRW: Der nordrhein-westfälische CDU-Landesvorsitzende Jürgen Rüttgers und dessen Ehefrau Angelika

Jürgen Rüttgers wants a resolution to the talks to be the main focus.

But senior members of the CDU are warning against too much criticism while coalition talks with the Social Democrats are in progress. "I believe that all issues related to coalition talks have to take precedence now," said Jürgen Rüttgers, the Christian Democratic premier of North Rhine-Westphalia.

"We'll see a tough fight over reforms in a variety of key areas, and we'll have enough on our plate to prevent our manifesto from being taken to pieces completely," he added. "If in a situation like this we were to couple this with a large-scale analysis of our showing at the general election, then this would clearly overstretch our abilities."

The CDU/CSU's youth wing is alarmed by the concessions that the conservatives have already been forced to make in the bickering over ministerial posts.

Grand coalition too high a price for CDU for some

Merkel stellt ihre Mannschaft vor p178

The conservative cabinet has its chancellor but does it have power?

"We'll be having a huge structural problem in the grand coalition which we'll most likely see in power at the end of the day," one delegate to the Augsburg meeting argued. "Most ministries where important reforms have to be masterminded in the four years ahead have gone to the Social Democrats. Which is to say that our participation in a grand coalition comes at too high a price."

Meanwhile the SPD's main negotiator, party chief and parliamentary group leader Franz Müntefering, is facing inner party criticism as well. There is opposition to his candidate for the post of SPD secretary general, as many within the SPD are coming out in favor of a prominent member of the party's leftist youth wing.

Franz Müntefering

Franz Müntefering faces a tough start to his job as vice-chancellor.

Recent attempts to rejuvenate the party leadership won't make Müntefering's negotiating position any easier in talks which are already marked by a variety of stumbling blocs. Coalition talks during Monday afternoon will be centering on an agreement over the country's future policies related to consolidating public finances.

Germany's finances a major sticking point

Both sides acknowledge the need to save at least 30 billion euros ($35.8 billion) in 2006 and 2007 in order to finally meet the deficit criteria set under the EU's Stability and Growth Pact. But there's still a lot of disagreement on how to reach this ambitious aim.

Monday's talks are expected to see a breakthrough on whether or not to raise value-added tax by two percent, as proposed by the Christian Democrats. The negotiating sides will also have to talk about a large-scale reduction of state subsidies, including those for private home builder.

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