By Ayhan Simsek
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday clinched a deal with the country's second-largest party to enter formal negotiation for building a coalition government.
Senior representatives of Merkel's conservative Christain Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) bloc and the Social Democrat Party (SPD) struck the agreement in their fifth and final round of exploratory talks, which started Thursday morning and lasted into the early hours of Friday.
EU’s largest economy spent 110 days without an elected government following the parliamentary election on Sept. 24, 2017, the longest period since the Second World War.
Speaking to reporters after the over 24-hour negotiations, SPD leader Martin Schulz said they had reached an agreement and would now seek approval from the party organs to enter formal negotiations on building a coalition government.
Negotiation teams of the three parties have drawn up a 28-page document, which tabulate agreed points in various policy areas, including migration, health insurance and tax cuts.
Christian Democrats agreed to SPD demands such as tax relief for low-income families, equal financing of health insurance by employees and employers, and ensuring adequate pension.
On the contentious issue of family reunification for refugees, the parties agreed to set a limit of 1,000 people per month.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SPD also reached agreement on Turkey policy, and adopted a more moderate approach, compared to their pre-election rhetoric.
“For us, Turkey is an important partner and neighbor, with that we have multifaceted relations,” the joint document of the parties said.
Despite their pre-election promise to terminate Turkey’s EU membership process, the parties refrained from any radical proposal in their coalition document.
But they have underlined that, no new chapter would be opened in Turkey’s EU membership talks, unless Ankara makes progress in addressing EU’s criticism on the issues democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Ahead of Sept. 24 elections, SPD’s Martin Schulz had proposed to terminate Turkey’s EU membership talks, due to political tensions between Berlin and Ankara, and disagreements over the arrest of around 10 German citizens in Turkey, as part of anti-terrorism investigations.
His rival Chancellor Merkel also took a harder line before the election, but Berlin failed to gather support among other EU member states to stop Turkey’s membership talks.
The coalition document argued that Ankara’s expectations on updating EU-Turkey Customs Union, and benefiting from visa-free travel to Europe would depend on Ankara’s steps to meet its obligations.
The document did not include any reference to the “privileged partnership”, a modal suggested by Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the past, as an alternative to Turkey’s full membership perspective.
Eyes on SPD vote
Following Friday’s agreement, SPD leader Martin Schulz has started talks with party executives to win the support of party grassroots for the deal.
The SPD is scheduled to hold an extraordinary party conference on Jan. 21 to seek approval from its delegates for entering negotiations for the coalition government.
Jusos, the youth-wing of SPD, strongly opposes a coalition government, arguing that Sept 24. election results meant voters have rejected such a move.
Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance emerged as the largest bloc in the parliament following September's federal election, but they failed to secure an absolute majority.
The SPD suffered its worst result in decades but remained the second-largest party in parliament.
Many Social Democrats have blamed their poor showing on the "grand coalition" with Christian Democrats in the previous term.