Angela Merkel has warned it will take “enormous work” to break Germany’s three-month political deadlock and form a new coalition government, as she headed into fresh negotiations with the country’s second largest party yesterday.
"I think that it can be done. We will work very swiftly and very intensively," she told journalists as she arrived at the headquarters of the Social Democrats (SPD) for the first day of exploratory meetings, which are expected to last until the end of the week.
"I am going into these talks with optimism,” she said. “At the same time it is clear to me that we will have an enormous piece of work in front of us over the next few days but we are willing to take it on and to bring a good result."
Mrs Merkel is hoping to form a coalition government with the SPD, more than three months after the general election in which her party was the largest party, but without a majority vote.
The two parties governed together from 2013-2017 in a so-called “grand coalition” of left and right, however, negotiations are unlikely to go without challenges.
Graphic: Germany’s political spectrum
Initially, Martin Schulz, leader of SPD, refused to contemplate joining another alliance with Mrs Merkel, after his party suffered its worst ever result since World War Two in the federal election.
Mr Schulz only made a U-turn, agreeing to talks, after he was threatened with a possible leadership challenge from members of his party, following the breakdown of negotiations between Mrs Merkel and two smaller parties in November.
Immigration policy is likely to be a sticking point in the talks. Mr Schulz has said he is in favour of allowing the family members of some refugees to join them in Germany whereas Mrs Merkel’s conservative coalition want tougher immigration policies.
Mrs Merkel’s open-door policy in 2015, when more than a million refugees and other migrants arrived in Europe, is blamed by her party for losing votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
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Mr Schulz has also called for a “United States of Europe”, which could prove problematic for CSU and CSU politicians, and for compulsory state health insurance for all.
However, as he headed into talks with Mrs Merkel, Mr Schulz said he hoped for “constructive and open” talks, and noted that the German people deserve to see quick progress.
“We’re not going to draw lines in the sand, but we want to push through as many (of our) policies as possible,” he said. A new coalition government is not expected to be formed before March or April.