The affordable education loan option
Berlin - German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched Monday a second round of exploratory talks with the main opposition Social Democrats (SPD) to consider forging a new coalition government.
Merkel's conservative bloc could still need a third round of exploratory talks with both the SPD and the Greens before starting formal negotiations to form a coalition, said Horst Seehofer, who heads up the chancellor's Bavarian-based ally, the Christian Social Union.
Monday's meeting is expected to focus on major areas of differences between Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left SPD.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles said a central theme of the talks would be her party's demand for the introduction of a national minimum wage of 8.5 euros (11.55 dollars) an hour.
“There should be no misunderstanding,” she said. “We are talking about a comprehensive legal minimum wage of 8.50 euros in eastern and western (Germany).”
Merkel also plans another round of talks with the Greens before announcing which party she will launch formal negotiations with.
Her Christian Democrats (CDU) returned as the biggest force in parliament in the September 22 general election.
She needs a new coalition partner, after her ally for the last four years, the Free Democrats, failed to win any parliamentary seats and the CDU/CSU bloc fell just short of securing an absolute majority.
Signs of compromise from both the SPD and the CDU/CSU in key areas emerged over the weekend, despite the resistance in parts of the SPD to forming a so-called grand coalition along the lines of Merkel's 2005-09 government.
Many analysts and CDU members believe another grand coalition is also the chancellor's preferred option.
Merkel's other possible coalition partner, the Greens, are also sceptical as to whether they would be able to bridge their differences with the CDU/CSU, notably with regard to clean energy and social issues such as refugee policy, to form what would be the first national coalition between the two political adversaries.
“The first round did not leave me optimistic,” said Greens party leader Cem Oezdemir. “I assume that we will come to a final assessment tomorrow.”
Leaders from the CDU/CSU and SPD are expected to discuss on Monday the euro, state finance, demographic change as well as plans to tackle the abuse of part-time workers in the labour force.
The SPD is reportedly considering dropping its call for euro bonds to resolve the euro crisis as well as parental benefits in the hope that Merkel will agree to a nation-wide minimum wage.
But the real sticking point to building a new government might be over the allocation of portfolios in Merkel's new cabinet.
Members of the SPD have already been insisting that the party should be given the key Finance Ministry as a reward for agreeing to join Merkel.
Several leading CDU members have also not ruled out an alliance with the Greens because the party could not lay claim to as many ministries as the SPD.
While the Greens won 8.4 per cent of the vote, the SPD secured 25.7 per cent of the vote.
Analysts, however, see Merkel's talks with the Greens on Tuesday as a means of stepping up the pressure on a reluctant SPD.
Key SPD leaders are resisting joining a new grand coalition after the party's share of the vote slumped to a record low in the 2009 election of 23 per cent.
But for Merkel a new coalition with the CDU/CSU and SPD would ensure she has a solid majority in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.
It would also help her to strengthen her hand in the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which represents Germany's 16 states and which at present is controlled by the opposition parties.
Failure on the part of the SPD to agree to link up with the CDU/CSU would open it up to an attack from Merkel that it is acting in party, rather than national, interests.
Even if Merkel decides to open formal coalition talks with the SPD, a party convention set down for October 20 still has to decide whether to accept the offer. The party's 470 000 members would then also have to vote on a coalition deal.