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Germany

Talks Conclude for Berlin's New Red-Red Coalition

The SPD and PDS have reached an agreement for a coalition government in Berlin. Negotiations were slowed down by debate over ministerial appointments and a preamble admitting blame for Berlin's divided past.

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A handshake seals the deal between coalition partners Klaus Wowereit (SPD) and Gregor Gysi (PDS)

After weeks of intensive talks, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats (SPD) and the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) have finalized an agreement to share power in the Berlin city government.

Discussions surrounding the appointment of ministries and the wording of a controversial preamble were the main sticking points in the negotiations between the two parties which concluded Monday.

Under the coalition deal, the PDS will control three ministries in the municipal administration: health, social services and consumer protection; economics, employment and women; culture, science and research. The dominant SPD maintains the mayor’s position and five remaining posts: interior; finance; education, youth and sports; city development, building, transportation and environment; justice. The candidate for the position of the justice ministry must be approved by both parties.

The coalition agreement marks the first time the two parties have come together to form a ruling coalition in a major German city, let alone a local government of national significance. The parties’ agreement is also significant in light of Berlin’s unique historical division.

Traces of history remain

Many west German voters are still suspicious of the PDS, which they regard as the direct successor to the SED party that ruled East Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall. Some business leaders in Berlin warn that an alliance with the ultra left PDS could frighten away investors from Germany’s bankrupt capital.

Coalition talks to form a new Berlin government have been underway since the SPD won the municipal election in October. At first Schröder’s ruling party wanted to form a coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP), but was forced to turn to the PDS after negotiations with the other parties broke down.

The PDS received 23% of the Berlin vote, but many SPD leaders feared joining up with a party that could tarnish the image of the SPD as a "middle of the road party" and cost it votes in this year’s national elections scheduled for September.

Taking responsibility for the past

Despite such fears of being linked to the PDS, the SPD pushed forth with negotiation talks and the signing of a critical preamble to the coalition accord.

The preamble starts out with an admonition to both parties to strive for unity: "The metropolis of Berlin is in every instance a workshop for unity and representative of the task that faces all of Germany... A politics of unity in Berlin can only be successful when it remains conscious of its historical responsibility and helps keep alive the history of the city for people’s everyday lives."

In the preamble, both parties agree that the SED is responsible for the deaths of those shot trying to escape across the Berlin Wall, as well as the bloody suppression of a workers’ uprising on June 17, 1953 and the persecution of Social Democrats and other opposition activists during the party’s 40-year rule.

The preamble also states that the PDS has distanced itself from the injustices of the SED and the building of the Wall, and by doing so has begun the important task of coming to terms with the troublesome history of its predecessor party.

The PDS had already admitted its regret for the building of the Berlin Wall during last year’s 40th anniversary of the Wall’s construction. But the wording of the preamble with its direct attribution of blame marks a first for the PDS.

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