After long negotiations, a deal between Germany's two largest parties could form the country's next government. While leading politicians want to present the results of the talks next week, points of contention remain.
Progress has been slow in the coalition talks between the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the other side. Judging from the proceedings so far, negotiations could well go on for several more weeks - after all, word from Berlin was that the parties' negotiators still had 110 open questions to work on.
But now they have quickly, and unexpectedly, agreed on a number of issues including: lower monthly health care premiums, higher pensions for mothers, a tighter control of financial markets, a less protracted asylum application process. Various points of contention, such as how the federal government and the states regulate their finances, have been passed off to future commissions.
Apparently, the party heads have increased pressure on the expert groups negotiating individual issues. There are of course still a number of touchy subjects in discussion, those that the different parties consider essential to their political identity. But the process of slowly pushing these rigid ideas towards a compromise has started. Some of the topics in question are the SPD's demands for a nationwide minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($11.50), the conservatives' insistence on maintaining a law prohibiting dual citizenship and the very basic question of how to finance all projects the future government is planning for.
As of now, the potential future government's plans would cost some 50 billion euros. Germany, however, has given itself a spending ceiling of 10 billion euros and deciding where the extra money should come from could prolong talks.
Another touchy topic will be the question of who gets which cabinet positions. There is, for example, speculation that Sigmar Gabriel, head of the SPD, is aiming for the important Finance Ministry. Regardless of all these troubles, current Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that a coalition agreement will be ready by the end of November.
Too tired to argue any further
To reach an agreement by next week, intense negotiations will carried out in large and small circles. A small group consisting of the party heads is meeting on Monday afternoon. They will call on the leaders of the 12 task forces to discuss the respective budgets. The party heads will also spend Tuesday together in conferences. This meeting will be followed by a larger conference with 75 members of the Social Democrats and Christian conservatives in attendance. The plan is to reach an agreement over night. But even that won't be the end of conference rooms for German politicians. The parties will individually discuss the terms in their executive committees again. And then, SPD leaders will have to decide whether they want to present the contract to all their members, who need to approve it before a grand coalition can take office in Berlin.
Hard work awaits the negotiators if they want to make their deadline. That's why they don't hold back anymore. The CSU Secretary General Alexander Dobrindt said he is hoping for a success, but added that the "cannons are loaded now." Hubertus Heil, second-in-command of the SPD parliamentary group added that "negotiations will get tough." But everybody is also eager to point out how much they want an agreement.
Two months have passed since the elections, and the politicians seem somewhat tired. Merkel was quoted as saying that the grand coalition is "not what [her] heart desires." But Merkel and Gabriel are known for their endurance - and they really want to get along. Journalists are expecting a successful ending to the negotiation saga on Wednesday. That's when the final press conference is scheduled. Optimistic organizers have already booked the room for the event.