The chairman of Germany's Social Democrats Sigmar Gabriel says his party's executive favors formal coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. This follows a third round of exploratory talks in Berlin.
The top rank of Germany's opposition center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) decided Thursday to recommend formal coalition talk with Chancellor Merkel's conservatives.
Confirmation hinges on a SPD conference next Sunday, meaning that a grand coalition comprising Germany's two biggest political groupings is still not a done deal.
"I'm sure that we will find sensible solutions for the issues that are in dispute," said Gabriel (pictured center), whose party membership has been divided over whether to become a junior partner to Merkel.
Emerging from the exploratory talks Thursday, Gabriel said the seven-member SPD negotiating team was under the impression that it "made sense" to begin formal talks.
These would begin next Wednesday, Gabriel said.
That date was also given by Horst Seehofer, the leader of Merkel's Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Hermann Gröhe, the general secretary of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said the exploratory talks had shown that the two sides "can develop sufficient common ground to be able to govern our country successfully for four years."
Thursday's exploratory talks began reportedly with a long, closed-door conversation between Gabriel, Merkel and Seehofer.
Greens opt out
The apparent deal came two days after Germany's environmentalist Greens opted out of further talks with the Merkel's conservative alliance.
Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc won a resounding victory in the September 22 federal elections, falling just five seats short of an absolute majority in the Bundestag parliament which will have 631 seats.
The chancellor's bloc won 41.5 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats won 25.7 percent after campaigning before the election to form a coalition with the Greens.
The junior partner in Merkel's previous coalition government, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), did not make the five-percent threshold needed to return to the next parliament.
Their departure from the Bundestag forced the chancellor to seek a new coalition partner.
The SPD had reiterated concerns over entering into another grand coalition with Merkel because of the party's past experiences in a Merkel-led grand coalition between 2005 and 2009.
That partnership is believed to have resulted in the SPD's worst-ever election results in the election that followed in late 2009.
Assuming formal coalition talks proceed next week, the key issues are likely to be whether or not to raise taxes for infrastructure, education and welfare and whether to set a minimum hourly wage nationwide.
Gabriel on Thursday said Merkel's CDU "knows that a general minimum wage of 8.50 euros (ê11.5) is a central demand without which a grand coalition with the SPD wouldn't make any sense".
Gröhe said on Thursday that both sides "have the common aim of a sensible minimum wage arrangement."
The SPD also wants more child-care centers for working families whereas the CSU wants to maintain a statutory payment to assist parents with toddlers at home.
Germany's consensus on the need to move from nuclear power toward renewables such as wind and solar is clouded in arguments about how to implement the transition.
On the euro zone crisis, the differences between the two sides are said to be moderate.
Alexander Dobrindt, the general secretary of the Bavarian CSU (pictured with Gröhe), said the exploratory talks had produce agreement that growth, financial stability and employment would be priorities for a new coalition government.
"We have noted commonalities, we have noted differences and we have seen there is mutual trust," Dobrindt said.
ipj/rc (Reuter, dpa, AFP)