The German Social Democrats under pressure to form a grand coalition



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BERLIN (Reuters) – The leader of Germany's Social Democrats was put under increasing pressure on Thursday to abandon his opposition to a new "grand coalition" with the conservatives of Angela Merkel, and leading politicians argue that the party He had a duty to promote stability.

Merkel faces the biggest political crisis of her career since collapsing efforts to forge a tripartite coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens in favor of the business last weekend. That has raised concerns throughout Europe about a prolonged leadership vacuum in the continent's economic powerhouse.

The Social Democrats (SPD) have ruled in coalition under Merkel since 2013. But the leader Martin Schulz said that the party should pay attention to the will of the voters when entering the opposition after achieving its worst result of the postwar period in the elections of September 24.

Pressure increases for the party to review its decision, either agreeing to shore up a minority government led by conservatives by not voting against, or forming a renewed coalition.

In any case, Schulz's position as party leader could become untenable. If changing course and forming a team with the Conservatives requires a change of leadership in the SPD, that would be unlikely before a party conference on December 7-9.

Schulz held a long meeting on Thursday afternoon with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former SPD lawmaker and foreign minister, before heading to the party headquarters to consult members of the high party. Steinmeier is trying to help facilitate a coalition government and avoid new elections.

"We will talk about whether a federal government can be achieved in Germany" and how it can be achieved, one SPD member said before the meeting and added that an option on the table was to support Merkel only indirectly by not blocking a government minority .

But Stephan Weil, the SPD prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, one of the party's most influential figures after challenging the polls by winning re-election this year, implied that a full coalition would be preferable to a minority government.

"Minority governments are fragile constructions," he told the consortium of the RND newspaper. The SPD had to trace a path between the bases of a party that was reluctant to repeat the overwhelming experience of a grand coalition and its democratic obligations.

"Everyone understands that there is a lot at stake, which involves the stability of an extremely important member of the European Union," he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the CDU of the Christian Democratic Party and leader of the Social Democratic Party SPD and top candidate Martin Schulz attend a television chat show in Berlin, Germany, September 24, 2017. REUTERS / Gero Breloer / POOL – RC1F49319D50

Volker Kauder, leader of the conservative parliamentary group and key ally of Merkel, echoed the sentiment and called for a repeat of the grand coalition.

WAITING FOR AN ANSWER

"Europe is waiting for a Germany capable of acting so that it can finally answer the questions posed by French President (Emmanuel) Macron," he said, referring to Macron's call for fiscal reforms to strengthen the euro zone.

Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world, has been a bastion of stability in the EU and officials in Brussels and Paris fear months of political uncertainty that could damage plans to reform the governance of the euro zone and the policies of defense and asylum.

Merkel, who remains the rector until a new government is agreed, has said she would prefer to work with the SPD, but if that option fails, she would favor the new elections over an unstable minority government.

Another election would not provide a quick resolution either. Under the German constitution, the president could call other elections only after Merkel lost several votes in the Bundestag, a process that could take several months.

The mbad circulation newspaper Bild reported on Wednesday that 30 members of the parliamentary group of 153 members of the SPD this week questioned Schulz's preference for entering the opposition during a parliamentary party meeting.

Speaking to ZDF television on Thursday, SPD vice-president Karl Lauterbach said his party might have to reconsider its opposition to another "grand coalition," but added that it is still skeptical about joining one run by Merkel.

The SPD supports Macron's proposal to grant the euro zone the power to spend money to protect members of the single currency bloc against external shocks.

However, if the SPD changes from a "grand coalition," the leader of Merkel's sister party in the state of Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), said on Thursday that he should not expect conservatives to grant any concessions

"We can not be blackmailed," said Horst Seehofer, who struggles to remain a leader of the CSU in the face of internal opposition.

Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt, Holger Hansen and Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Joern Poltz in Munich; Edition by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff

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