German Chancellor and leader of German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel (C), leader of German Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer (L) and leader of German Social Democratic Party (SPD) Martin Schulz pose for photos after a joint press conference at the headquarters of SPD, in Berlin, Germany, on Jan. 12, 2018. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday achieved a breakthrough in their exploratory talks aimed at forming a new coalition government, local media reported. (Xinhua/Shan Yuqi)
by Ren Ke
BERLIN, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The exploratory talks for German government coalition reached breakthrough on Friday, which will probably end the political uncertainty in Berlin and give strong support to European Union through closer cooperation with France.
After the overnight talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU) and Martin Schulz-led Social Democratic Party (SPD), reached a 28-page agreement outlining the policies of the future new government on Friday morning.
It paves the way to formal coalition negotiations that will end government vacuum lasting for over three months since September 24 federal elections, and the new policies will be a strong boost to EU after the Brexit.
"I walked into this house over 24 hours ago -- then, I was not sure that it would succeed, and I was only sure that it was a pretty big mission," Merkel said at a press conference at SPD headquarter Willy-Brandt Haus on Friday after the talks.
Schulz said at the press conference that the paper reflects the desire for renewal, in families, education and the digital challenge, adding social cohesion must be strengthened.
CSU chief Horst Seehofer said he was "highly satisfied" with the outcomes, adding no additional party congress for CSU is necessary to confirm its support for the Grand Coalition, the one between the Union and the SPD.
According to German Press Agency, the SPD board voted by a large majority for coalition negotiations, and the CDU board and the CSU regional group approved unanimously.
The three parties managed to control their differences and reach the compromise. For instance, the refugees will be limited to between 180,000 and 220,000 per year, while previously the Union agreed to limit it up to 200,000 and the SPD opposed to set a cap on it.
The SPD made compromise in supporting refugees' family reunion. The family reunion for refugees with limited protection status will initially remain suspended until a new regulation is found, and then limited to 1,000 people per month, according to the policy paper.
The increase demanded by the SPD of the top tax rate will not come, as no tax increases is stipulated in the policy paper.
Schulz said the SPD achieved excellent results, and Merkel said it was "a paper of giving and taking."
MAKING EUROPE STRONG AGAIN
"The three parties are ready to make Europe strong again," said Schulz at the press conference.
The first chapter of the document was dedicated to European policies, which stresses the German-Franco initiative in European integration and says Germany wants to develop the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a parliamentary-controlled European Monetary Fund.
"We are also ready for higher contributions from Germany to the EU budget," says the paper, adding that Germany is to be actively involved in the debate on the future of the European Union (EU) and strengthening European integration.
The two parties also stress Europe's role in peace and global responsibility in the document, clearly rejecting protectionism, isolationism and nationalism and calling for more international cooperation.
The document stipulates that the EU must play a leading international role in climate protection and advocate an ambitious implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
The policy paper is the first response to French President Emmanuel Macron's ambition for profound changes of EU in post-Brexit area, saying that "the renewal of the EU will only succeed if Germany and France work together with all their strength. That is why we want to further strengthen and renew German-French cooperation."
"It's a good news for European integration, as France and other EU major countries are waiting for Germany to have opinions on it, and on some points like stronger European common budget, is really a big astonishment for me," Prof. Frank Baasner, director of Ludwigsburg-based think-tank German-French Institute, told Xinhua.
Baasner said in the context of the right-populism, the Brexit and an isolationist United States, Europeans are discussing how and where will they go. It is now a strong moment that both France and Germany want to come to some major steps.
"Although it's often that ambition is very strong and when it comes to details there are huge differences between France and Germany. But let's be optimistic, it's a really good start to discuss the future of Europe," said Baasner.
EUROPEAN LEADERS HAIL
The results of the coalition talks were quickly responded positively by major European leaders, who have been waiting impatiently for a new German government, as the biggest Eurozone economy plays a leading role in EU affairs.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed as "positive" plans for Europe in a deal that brings Merkel a step closer to forming a coalition government.
"I am very satisfied with the content," Juncker told a press conference in Bulgaria on Friday, describing the deal's section on the future of the EU as a "very significant, positive, constructive, forward-looking, purposeful contribution."
French President Macron said he was "happy and satisfied" that a coalition deal was in sight, and a French government spokesman said the blueprint was "good for Germany, good for France and above all good for Europe."
He said the terms of the deal were "more favorable" for his vision of a reformed EU than a separate agreement that was discussed and abandoned between the Union and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) in November last year.
The Union-SPD talks came into existence after the Union, the FDP and the Greens failed to reach an agreement in later November, dragging Merkel into the most serious political crisis in 12 years.
The breakthrough in exploratory talks may avoid a minority government led-by Merkel or snap elections, but the new government can only be established after some procedures, and even obstacles.
The SPD will convene a special congress on Jan. 21 in Bonn to decide whether to enter into the formal coalition talks or not. The formal coalition talks need the green-light to kick off.
The Social Democrats previously opposed to ally with the Union again and vowed to enter into opposition but changed its attitude under heavy social and political pressure.
However, the SPD's youth and left-wing factions have renewed calls that the SPD should not enter into another coalition with Merkel, which had made it suffer the landslide loss in federal elections. They feared of the party being further minimalized under the Union.
The conclusion of the formal coalition talks will also be submitted to SPD's 440,000-plus members to vote on.
Seehofer said last week that he hoped a new government would be in place before Easter, which falls on April 1.