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Germany

Germany Edges Closer to Grand Coalition

Christian Union leader Angela Merkel said Friday that talks with Greens leaders about a possible coalition failed. That means a grand coalition between conservatives and Social Democrats is most likely.

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The ongoing political theater in Germany has attracted crowds


"There was of course great difficulty in finding areas of agreement. We do not foresee another round of talks for the moment," Merkel told reporters after the talks in Berlin ended. "This does not mean that the talks were not honest, open and peaceful and that all doors are closed forever."

She said a decision would only be taken about further talks with the Greens once the conservatives had held a second round of negotiations next Wednesday with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats.

Neither Merkel's Christian Democrats nor the Social Democrats of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder won a governing majority in Sunday's election, sparking a race to form a coalition government.

The pro-environment Greens on Friday said they saw no reason for further talks with what their co-president Reinhard Bütikofer called the "neo-liberal, anti-ecological" conservatives.

"The differences are exceptionally big," he told journalists.

The meeting was merely "to find out what we have in common," the Greens' co-president Claudia Roth said. "I am extraordinarily skeptical about working with the Christian Union," she acknowledged this week, referring to the combined forces of the Christian Democratic Union and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

Bildgalerie Nach den Wahlen Grünen

Green party leaders (from left): Joschka Fischer, Reinhard Bütikofer and Claudia Roth

The Greens have been mooted as a potential third partner in a coalition between Merkel's party and the free-market liberal Free Democrats. The proposed three-way pact has been dubbed a "Jamaica" coalition because the parties' respective green, black and yellow colors match those of the Caribbean nation's flag.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the Greens' most visible member, said he believed the three parties' policies were simply too far apart for such an arrangement to function.

"I just can't see how Jamaica could work," he told Friday's Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

The conservatives and the Greens are diametrically opposed on Turkey's bid to join the European Union, on plans to reform Germany's complicated tax system and to phase out the nation's use of nuclear power.

Intransigence on both sides

The conservatives and the Free Democrats had planned to rule together but failed to draw enough votes. Instead of winning 40 percent as predicted, the conservatives took just 35.2 percent to finish less than a percentage point ahead of Schröder's Social Democrats. The knife-edge result has sparked a standoff between Schröder and Merkel as to who should become Germany's next chancellor, and it looks unlikely to be resolved soon.

Both politicians stuck to their guns on Thursday when their parties met for exploratory talks on forming a so-called grand coalition. It is seen by observers as the most viable way out of the impasse created by the vote, but there are fears that the two parties would fail to bury their differences and implement reforms needed to rescue Germany's troubled economy.

Merkel, a 51-year-old former scientist who wants to become Germany's first female leader, said as she emerged from the meeting that "clear differences" remained between the parties' positions. She also reiterated that it was she, and not Schröder, who had won a mandate to form a government and therefore deserved to head whatever coalition comes out of the next days or weeks of horse-trading.

Gerhard Schröder und Franz Müntefering nach Sondierungsgesprächen mit CDU

Schröder (right) and Müntefering

"I made it clear that I, together with the Christian Democrats, have a mandate to govern," she said.

The leader of the Social Democrats, Franz Müntefering, countered: "We made it clear we want to govern with Schröder as chancellor."

Germans want grand coalition

A so-called grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD now appears to be the only viable way out of the political impasse created by the election.

An opinion poll published by the Emnid institute on Thursday showed that Germans would prefer Merkel to be at the head of such a coalition, with 47 percent backing her and 44 percent Schröder.

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