The major sticking points in Germany′s upcoming coalition talks | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 22.01.2018
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The major sticking points in Germany's upcoming coalition talks

The Social Democrats want to negotiate over fixed-term contracts, refugee family reunion and Germany's two-tier health care systems in upcoming coalition talks. Without progress, a new government could be in jeopardy.

One day after the Social Democrats (SPD) held their party conference in Bonn, its parliamentary party convened in Berlin to reflect on the previous day's close vote in favor of coalition talks. Only 56 percent of the delegates in the former German capital opted for formal coalition talks with the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The SPD isn't exactly euphoric about the prospect of a new coalition government.

Schulz shows oratory skill

The parliamentary party meeting lasted two hours. SPD leader Martin Schulz received flak once more. But it's also been reported that Schulz gave a good speech — better than his remarks at Sunday's party conference in any case. Many now say the center-left SPD must achieve some victories in the upcoming negotiations with the CDU/CSU if the prospective so-called grand coalition is to become a reality. Because once the official negations are concluded, the SPD's 440,000 party members will get to vote on the final deal. And that could prove to be a formidable hurdle.

CDU reluctant to renegotiate

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Angela Merkel (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

Representing Merkel's conservatives, Kramp-Karrenbauer has been a major coalition talks figure

Schulz seems relieved that a majority of party delegates supported his wish to begin coalition talks. But he's well aware of what's now expected of him. "We will discuss all issues covered during the exploratory talks one more time," he said.

Those talks had culminated in a 28-page document collating the results. The Social Democrats view this document as nothing more than a basic draft, unlike the CDU. Saarland's State Premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who participated in the exploratory talks on behalf of the CDU and who is quite influential in Berlin, made her position clear over the weekend. "Those trying to renegotiate certain aspects of the deal will unravel the entire package, and that's not going to happen," she told public broadcaster Südwestrundfunk.

Opposed to fixed-term contracts

But that, it seems, is exactly what's on the cards. Three issues not included in the 28-page agreement are especially important to the SPD. One of them concerns fix-term contracts. The party wants to put an end to fixed-term job contracts being issued without giving a valid reason for doing so (such as temporarily replacing an employee on maternity leave). Some 2.8 million contracts in Germany are said to be on a fixed-term basis without an explicit reason. Individuals under the age of 30 in particular are often offered fix-term contracts. It's unclear if the CDU and CSU are open to addressing this issue. 

improved public health insurance

The Social Democrats also want to end Germany's two-tier healthcare system, which often affords great privileges to the 9 million individuals registered with private health insurers. These perks include private rooms during hospital stays and being treated by a leading doctor. And, most importantly, the ability to quickly get appointments to see renowned specialists. The 72 million individuals registered with statutory quasi-public health insurers often wait for weeks until a doctor will see them. The SPD wants this situation improved.

Martin Schulz (picture alliance/dpa/F. Gambarini)

Schulz managed to get coalition talks approved, narrowly

Young refugees and their families

The party's third sticking point could prove the most contentious. Refugees from war-torn countries like Syria are afforded great protection in Germany. Reuniting those refugees with their families in Germany has been put on hold for two years now. The document agreed by the SPD, CDU and CSU states that in future, 1,000 family members will be allowed to move to Germany to reunite with family members already here. Many experts welcome this, arguing that teenage refugees will be easier to integrate into society and less likely to fall victim to criminal behavior if their parents move here. Yet Germany's CSU in particular is strictly against allowing more migrants into the country.

SPD must score a victory

The Social Democrats will have to get the CDU/CSU to make concessions on at least one or maybe even two of these issues. SPD party members expect this. So, what are the odds? They could be in the Social Democrats' favor. The recent party conference in Bonn showed the SPD to be split almost 50-50 over whether to support a new coalition government. Many leading CDU and CSU figures realized that, despite the close vote in favor of coalition talks, a new government isn't a done deal, potentially giving the SPD more leverage.

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