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Merkel's conservatives and opposition SPD decide on further exploratory talks

After first talks on forming a possible coalition, Chancellor Merkel’s conservatives and the opposition Social Democrats have decided to hold another exploratory meeting. The mood at the talks was described as "open."

The next meeting between Merkel's CDU and the SPD is scheduled for October 14, SPD Secretary General Andrea Nahles (pictured 2nd r. above) said in Berlin on Friday after the talks.

While describing the atmosphere at the meeting as "open," she emphasized that even more talks would be necessary.

"We identified some consensus points, but we also talked about controversial points and identified differences, and further talks are thus needed," she said.

Her CDU counterpart, Hermann Gröhe, also praised the meeting's atmosphere, and said it was worthwhile to negotiate further.

"The atmosphere was good, business-like and constructive," he said, adding that there was "a lot of common ground there ... today we saw that it makes sense to meet again."

Long process

The meeting held in Berlin was the first of its kind since German voters delivered Chancellor Angela Merkel a major victory at the polls almost two weeks ago. However, the bloc of her Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) fell five seats short of an absolute majority, meaning they need a coalition partner to govern.

The Social Democrats (SPD), who came in second on September 22, could provide the chancellor with a very stable majority as part of a so-called "grand coalition."

There is, however, great reluctance on the part of the SPD to join a grand coalition, partly due to their experiences in a previous Merkel-led government between 2005 and 2009. The SPD emerged from that coalition to post their worst-ever result in the following election.

Some have also pointed to the fate of the CDU's last coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) as a further sign of the possible perils of being a weak partner in an uneven coalition. Last month's vote saw them shut out of parliament after they failed to clear the five percent hurdle required for sending deputies to the Bundestag.

Joint responsibility

Both sides, though, had pledged to enter Friday's exploratory talks with an open mind. SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel (pictured above, center) used an interview published in the Friday edition of the Süddeutsche newspaper to call on all sides to "act responsibly" in view of the election result.

"The last thing people want is a continuation of the election campaign, resulting in snap elections," Gabriel said.

Chancellor Merkel struck a similar tone.

"We have a joint responsibility to form a stable government," the chancellor told reporters at an event in Stuttgart to celebrate Germany's national holiday on Thursday.

Despite the apparent good intentions, neither side expects any coalition negotiations – if the process even gets that far – to be easy. One main bone of contention between the two sides is tax policy, with the SPD wanting to raise taxes for high income earners, which would be used to fund improvements to infrastructure and education. The CDU/CSU have repeatedly rejected any tax increase.

Other candidates

The SPD is not the only party that could help Merkel to the stable majority she seeks. Her team is to meet with the much-smaller Greens for exploratory talks next week. However, the Greens, like the SPD, are seeking a tax increase for the wealthy.

A total of 21 politicians took part in Friday afternoon's talks in Berlin, seven each from the CDU, the CSU and the SPD.

tj/rg (dpa, Reuters)