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German coalition talks make progress, but much work remains

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats have made significant progress in talks towards forming a coalition government. But all sides agree that they still have a long way to go.

Following Tuesday's (05.11.2013) round of negotiations in Berlin, the general secretaries of the chancellor's Christian Democrats (CDU), their Bavaria-based sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) said they had managed to agree on the broad strokes of foreign and economic policy.

The CSU's general secretary, Alexander Dobrindt, told a press conference that they had agreed among other things, that steps should be taken to ensure that Germany continues to be an industrial powerhouse. They had also agreed, he said, that Germany's broadband network should be expanded to ensure a fast internet connection across the country. There was, however some disagreement on how this should be financed, with Dobrindt saying his party had reservations about a proposal to set aside about a billion euros to achieve this.

EU discord

While the three parties were generally in agreement on the direction Germany's foreign policy should take, the SPD's general secretary, Andrea Nahles, told the joint press conference that significant differences remained over the European Union. The SPD, Nahles said, believes it is important "for us to strengthen and improve the coordination of foreign policy at the EU level."

Dobrindt, though, said the CSU was strictly opposed to handing over any further powers to Brussels, saying the "expansion of competencies in the direction of the EU is not on the agenda."

There is also general agreement that the parliamentary control of the exports of military hardware should be strengthened. CDU General-Secretary Hermann Gröhe said parliament should be informed at an earlier stage in the process than currently is the case, when it comes to approving military exports, such as a possible sale of submarines to Saudia Arabia.

Dobrindt also said that while progress had been made in the negotiations, much hard work still had to be done before a new government could take office.

"We three are under no illusions that there is still a rocky and difficult road ahead of us," Dobrint said. Both Nahles and the Gröhe agreed.

They said the issues that were expected to be the most difficult to reach a consensus on, including financial concerns, would be the last to be negotiated on.

pfd/dr (Reuters, AFP. dpa)