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German parties edge closer to coalition with migration deal

  • Published at 03:27 pm February 3rd, 2018
German parties edge closer to coalition with migration deal

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their would-be partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), have made major progress in talks on forming a coalition government but remain at odds on issues like labour rules, a senior SPD member said on Friday.

As he emerged from lengthy talks that Merkel hopes will ultimately secure her fourth term and end political impasse in Europe's largest economy, SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil said the parties had taken a "leap forward."

"But we also saw that we have differences on some topics," he said.

Senior conservative Peter Altmaier said Friday's talks had been good and the parties were optimistic but a "very tough stretch of road" lay ahead.

The parties became embroiled in another dispute over migration on Friday, with some SPD members saying they wanted to revisit January's coalition blueprint that said the parties did not expect annual migration to exceed 220,000 per year because they were annoyed that Merkel's CSU Bavarian allies seemed to be considering this as an upper limit.

But SPD deputy Ralf Stegner later said the parties had reached a deal. In an apparent defeat for the SPD, the wording of that migration prediction remained the same - as pushed for by the CSU, which calls for a migrant cap.

Stegner said the figure described "expected migration numbers" and beyond that the parties stood by the right to asylum enshrined in Germany's constitution.

He said the SPD had had to make compromises: "We can't make progress on our issues without giving something in return."

But he trumpeted an agreement on a "modern and transparent immigration law" as a success for the migrant-friendly SPD. The parties agreed to encourage skilled migration using criteria such as qualifications, age and language skills.

The two camps aim to finalise a deal for four more years of a "grand coalition" by the end of the weekend or early next week, some four months after an inconclusive election plunged Germany into unaccustomed political uncertainty.

But Merkel said, upon arriving for talks, that they faced divisions in crucial areas, adding: "We have goodwill to overcome them, but there is still a lot of work ahead for us."

The parties have agreed some eye-catching measures, including a 50 percent tax write-down for fleet electric cars and a 12-billion-euro public investment programme to improve sluggish data networks, documents seen by Reuters showed.

In the field of labour rights, where the SPD wants to signal to its members that it has set its stamp on the deal, the SPD and conservatives agreed to the right for employees in companies with more than 45 employees to move seamlessly back and forth between full- and part-time work.

But long lines of text highlighted in yellow showed the parties had yet to decide on the exact wording of that agreement.

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