Uncertain outcome of Germany coalition vote highlights Merkel fatigue

Kurz ended a two-day visit to Berlin on Thursday| Michele Tantussi  Getty Images

Kurz ended a two-day visit to Berlin on Thursday| Michele Tantussi Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took another step along the long and tortuous road to forming a new government on Sunday, when Social Democrats (SPD) agreed to coalition talks with her conservatives, four months after inconclusive elections.

At a special party congress in the western city of Bonn, 372 out of 642 party delegates backed SPD chief Martin Schulz's push to approve a preliminary coalition deal painstakingly hammered out with Merkel's Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) bloc.

Members of the SPD base have voiced strong opposition to the prospect of another so-called grand coalition between the country's two biggest political parties. If the SPD vote against the talks, it will nearly certainly trigger fresh elections that could cut short Merkel's 12 year reign as Germany's leader.

It was Gabriel who set in train events that have led to the Bonn meeting, on which hinges Germany's political future - and, with it, that of Merkel.

Schulz on Sunday vowed to extract more concessions in the formal coalition talks.

A potential result is that the CDU/CSU and SPD will form the "Grand Coalition".

Merkel's decision in 2015 to allow in large numbers of asylum-seekers caused major political friction and boosted the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which past year became the third-largest in parliament after campaigning on a shrill anti-migration and anti-Merkel message.

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Schulz, who had ruled out another grand coalition after the SPD recorded its worst-ever result in September's election, sought to explain why he had changed his mind. The party that embodies this in the most dramatic way is the SPD who, with Schulz's sudden appearance on the national political stage, desperately attempted to embody a new approach to social democracy and to politics more generally.

"Still, the path ahead promises to be hard, particularly for SPD leader Martin Schulz", says German weekly Der Spiegel. At the moment, there is no effective German government, meaning nothing significant can be approved within Germany or the EU.

"Europe is waiting for a Germany that knows its responsibility and can act decisively", Schulz said.

Six hundred delegates will vote on Sunday on whether to embark on full-blown coalition talks. Some Germans view a repeat of the old coalition (in diminished form) as emblematic of the waning power of the centre-right and the centre-left in general, and Ms. Merkel in particular.

The parties' leaders are seen by many Germans and commentators as exhausted and bereft of new ideas.

But her party only gained 33% of the votes, down from 41.5% four years earlier. Put another way, the German economy has remained resilient in the face of uncertain political conditions, and economic growth has been helped rather than hindered by the previous grand coalition. To explain: if a minority government is formed by the CDU (or with one other party), Merkel will have to reach out to individual parties to align with on each individual new bill. The SPD's youth wing leader looks so harmless he was dubbed "babyface" by a German tabloid this week - but has rattled party leaders.

If a minority government isn't installed, a decision that would be made by Germany's president, Merkel has indicated that she would run again in a new election.

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