Merkel’s fate in balance as German coalition talks drag on

BERLIN: Tough talks to form Germany’s next government stretched into overtime on Friday, putting Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political future in the balance since failure to produce a deal could force snap elections.

Merkel’s liberal policy on refugees, which let in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015, has come back to haunt her, with a motley crew of potential partners digging in their heels on diametrically opposed demands over immigration.

After weeks of quarrelsome exploratory talks, Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning Greens are hoping to find enough common ground to begin formal coalition negotiations.

The awkward bedfellows have been pushed together by September’s inconclusive election, which left Merkel badly weakened after the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) lured millions of voters angry over the refugee influx.

Merkel had initially said she wanted to wind up the negotiations by Thursday, but marathon overnight talks failed to produce a breakthrough.

Party leaders resumed their high-stakes haggling at midday and are expecting talks to last through the weekend.

“Make up your minds,” urged CSU leader Horst Seehofer, adding that he hoped “that we’ll succeed on Sunday”.

Peter Altmaier, Merkel’s chief of staff voiced optimism about reaching a deal, saying that “the problem is solvable”.

But the deputy leader of the liberal FDP, Wolfgang Kubicki, sounded more pessimistic, warning that “the positions have hardened”. Merkel herself acknowledged that “it will definitely be difficult, but it’s worthwhile to go into round two today.”

After suffering a humiliating loss at the polls, the centre-left Social Democratic Party has gone into opposition and ruled out returning to a grand coalition with Merkel.

The chancellor, who has steered Germany through crises including the global financial meltdown and the eurozone’s debt woes, therefore risks having to face new elections if she fails to get the CSU, the FDP and the Greens on board.

But the potential tie-up, dubbed a “Jamaica coalition” because the parties’ colours match those of the Jamaican flag, is untested at the national level, and questions abound about how stable such a government would be.

“It’s not just the chancellor’s fourth term that depends on the success of Jamaica, but her entire political career,” the best-selling Bild newspaper said.

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