Germany’s beleaguered chancellor will return to the negotiating table on Sunday with politicians from the Social Democratic party (SPD) and representatives of her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), to stave off the end of “Merkelism” by re-establishing the coalition that governed Germany from 2013 to 2017.
Angela Merkel’s efforts will involve tough bargaining with the centre-left, which eyes control over the country’s well-stocked state coffers as a reward for entering a new coalition – in the knowledge that failure of the talks could spell the end of the Merkel era.
Following the collapse of talks to form an unorthodox “Jamaica” coalition with the Free Democrats and the Green party in November, a centrist alliance would guarantee the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) her best chance of a stable government for a fourth term in office.
But historically poor results for both parties at last September’s elections mean that a new “grand coalition” could barely lay claim to such a name, and sliding polls are increasing pressure on the two political tribes to retreat behind orthodox party lines.
The SPD leader, Martin Schulz, who has previously ruled out forming a coalition with Merkel, has to win over a highly sceptical party membership that will get a final vote on whether to enter an alliance with the CDU, and is likely to seek protections for increased social security spending and infrastructure investment.
Key figures in the SPD believe Schulz can only guarantee such promises by laying claim to the previously CDU-run finance ministry. A centre-left finance minister could relax Germany’s balanced budget rules and work to meet French president Emmanuel Macron’s goals for reforming the eurozone.
The previous SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel’s decision to pick the economic and foreign ministries as trophy posts in 2013 is now widely seen within the party as a strategic mistake. But Schulz’s proposals will meet fierce resistance from the conservatives on the other side of the table, many of whom look towards the rightward-lurching government of the new Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, as a model to emulate.