Coalition talks aimed at forming Germany's next government have entered a nighttime finale. Closeted at a Berlin venue are 15 top politicians of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and opposition Social Democrats.
Sharp policy wrangles over pension reform and center-left calls for a minimum wage, as well as the issue of dual citizenship, dominated German coalition talks on Tuesday.
The discussions marked the closing phase of five weeks of formal negotiations that ensued after Germany's September 22 federal election.
Plans to widen the talks to encompass 77 negotiators from both sides were delayed until late Tuesday evening, local time.
Instead, the smaller select group of 15 drawn from both blocs and including Merkel and Social Democrat (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel (pictured above) met again to seek compromises in an atmosphere described as "very serious."
They had already negotiated for six hours on Tuesday at the SPD's Berlin headquarters.
Cabinet line-up postponed
Conservative sources said the naming of cabinet ministers would be delayed because of SPD insistence that policy points be first fixed in a coalition text to be submitted to 470,000 SPD members in a December plebiscite.
The results of that unique vote are due December 14.
Failure of Merkel's bloc - comprising her Christian Democrats (CDU) and Bavaria Christian Social Union (CSU) - to forge a coalition with Gabriel's center-left SPD could force Merkel to rule with a minority government, possibly the Greens.
Toll charges for foreign vehicles
As the conservatives and SPD re-entered talks mid-evening Tuesday they seemed to have resolved at least one contentious issue - the introduction of motorway tolls on foreign-owned vehicles.
By implication "no vehicle owner in Germany would be burdened extra," said a draft text published by DPA.
On full legal recognition for homosexual partnerships sought by the SPD differences also remained. Reuters quoted several conservatives as saying that it was "not the case" that consensus had been reached.
Results due by Wednesday
Deputy CDU party chairman Julia Klöckner said she assumed that a coalition agreement would result by Wednesday.
Earlier, Gabriel's ally and SPD general secretary Andreas Nahles said: "It will be a long night. But we all knew that."
Another senior SPD politician, Ralf Stegner from the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein said he was confident that an agreement would emerge
"Whether that will happened when it's dark or when it is bright, I don't know exactly."
CDU general secretary Hermann Gröhe said Tuesday's talks also hinged on how to finance the various proposals, including requests from Germany's 16 regional states or Länder.
Timetable focused on December 17
Assuming that SPD members deliver a "yes" vote for a coalition deal and that the conservative parties' executives concur, then Merkel could be elected by the Bundestag parliament on December 17 for a third term as chancellor.
Bundestag President Norbert Lammert expressed optimism Tuesday he had "no reason" to approach Tuesday's closing-phase negotiations with skepticism. The issues were hopefully resolvable, he said, adding that he expected the formation of Germany's next government to take place "before Christmas."
ipj/rc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)