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Merkel's conservatives and SPD start coalition talks

January 26, 2018

Germany's two largest parties have formally launched talks to form a new government after September's elections. Party leaders were upbeat about the prospect of a grand coalition in the run-up to the talks.

Angela Merkel and possible coalition partners
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B.v. Jutrczenka

Formal coalition talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU); their sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU); and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) started on Friday.

The talks are aimed at forming what is commonly referred to as a grand coalition, which would bring together Germany's two largest parties to form a government.

How we got here

Despite getting the go-ahead to move forward on formal coalition talks, the SPD's youth wing has vehemently lobbied for the center-left party to ditch a "grand coalition"
Despite getting the go-ahead to move forward on formal coalition talks, the SPD's youth wing has vehemently lobbied for the center-left party to ditch a "grand coalition"Image: Reuters/W. Rattay

Party leaders upbeat

Merkel was optimistic about the talks, saying: "People expect us to move towards forming a government, and that's why I'm very optimistic and very determined in these discussions that we reach a result and I believe that is achievable in a relatively manageable time frame."

SPD leader Martin Schulz said forming a stable government was pivotal for the country's success: "Given the challenges from China and the US, the EU needs a strong, pro-European Germany."

Horst Seehofer, who leads the CSU, was upbeat ahead of the talks, saying: "We will do everything in our power today and in the coming weeks to arrive at a good result."

What is a grand coalition?

A governing coalition between a parliament's two largest parties. In Germany's case, it means a coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD.

Have there been previous grand coalitions? 

In short, yes. The previous government was the third "grand coalition" since Germany adopted its current political system. Germany also witnessed "grand coalitions" in the 1960s and 2000s.

Read more: The major sticking points in Germany's coalition talks

If the CDU/CSU and SPD form a government, what parties will form the opposition?

Last year's elections witnessed the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) become the third-largest party in parliament. They would become the largest opposition party if a "grand coalition" government is formed. The Left Party, parliament's fifth-largest party, would also play a key opposition role to a Merkel-led government.

What happens next?

The talks are largely viewed as Merkel's last chance to form a stable government. If talks fail to produce a governing coalition, the CDU could try for a minority government, although fresh elections would be the most likely outcome. However, if she manages to pull together a grand coalition, then it's on to governing Europe's largest economy.

Read more: Germany's coalition talks: What happens next?

ls/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters)